A new United Nations report slams the United States and the Obama administration for killing and torturing children, for allowing the paramilitary recruitment of US children as young as 11, and for providing aid to countries that use child soldiers.
The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) report, released on February 5, covers the United States' record involving children in armed conflict. It expressed "alarm" at "the death of hundreds of children as a result of attacks and air strikes by the US military forces in Afghanistan... due notably to reported lack of precautionary measures and indiscriminate use of force." Although Afghan civilian casualties caused by US forces have declined recently, the report noted that "the number of casualties of children doubled from 2010 to 2011." It also voices "serious concern that members of the armed forces responsible for the killings of children have not always been held accountable" for their actions.
Just days after the report's release came news that a NATO air strike killed 10 Afghan civilians, including five children, in Kunar province.
The CRC reported its "deep concern that the [United States military] continues to arrest and detain children" during the course of the War on Terror and that these children are "generally denied access to legal assistance."
"Alleged child soldiers have been subjected to torture and/or ill-treatment and abusive interrogations and that in the case of Omar Khadr, the judge barred the defense from presenting significant evidence of Khadr's ill-treatment while in custody," the report stated, referring to the Canadian child who was captured in Afghanistan when he was 15 years old and imprisoned in Guantánamo Bay.
The report also noted that "children transferred to Afghan custody face torture and/or ill-treatment."
But while the US treats child soldiers, both actual and suspected, harshly, the Obama administration continues to provide military support to nations known to use child soldiers in their armed forces. The CRC report praises the US for enacting the Child Soldiers Prevention Act, a Bush-era law that "prohibits specific types of military assistance" to governments identified by the State Department as recruiting or using child soldiers. But the report slammed President Barack Obama for issuing waivers from the act to "countries where children are known to be, or may potentially be, recruited or used in armed conflict.""Waivers were granted to countries... [that are] recruiting or using children, killing or maiming children, committing rape and other forms of sexual violence against children, or engag[ing] in attacks on schools and/or hospitals in situations of armed conflict," the report states.
Indeed, for the third straight year, President Obama granted waivers to countries in the Middle East and North Africa that use child soldiers, citing the national security interests of the United States. The countries receiving the waivers for 2013 are Libya, South Sudan, Yemen and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (partial waiver).
It's not just foreign countries that use recruit and use child soldiers. The CRC report notes that "approximately 10 percent of recruits enrolled in the [US] armed forces are under 18." The report notes that Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) programs in America's schools target children as young as 11 for enrollment. Furthermore, "children are not always properly informed that enrollment into the JROTC program is of a voluntary nature," and that "in some schools, this program is used as a substitute for students enrolled in oversubscribed classes from which children cannot withdraw without losing their school credit." The report also asserts that "children enrolled in JROTC might be trained to use weapons."
Also, the reports states that under the 'No Child Left Behind' law enacted by the Bush administration, "schools are required to provide military recruiters access to secondary school students' names, addresses and telephone listings, and their parents are not always informed of their right to request not to release such information." Parental consent "has not always been obtained."
Some observers have compared the US military's targeting of children as young as 10 or 11 to the behavior of a child predator.
The CRC report also laments the fact that the United States does not criminalize the military recruitment of children under 18 and that "human rights and peace education... is not specifically incorporated as a mandatory part of the primary and secondary school curricula and in the teachers' training program" in the United States.
Among the many recommendations that the CRC report urges the United States to implement:
- Take concrete and firm precautionary measures and prevent indiscriminate use of force to ensure that no further killings and maiming of civilians, including children, take place.
- Ensure that all allegations of violations against children perpetrated by US military forces are investigated in a transparent, timely and independent manner, and ensure that perpetrators of those violations are brought to justice, prosecuted and sanctioned if found guilty.
- Investigate alleged cases of torture and/or ill-treatment of detained children in an impartial manner and ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice and sanctioned with penalties commensurate with their crimes if found guilty.
- Ensure that children in detention have access to free and independent legal advisory assistance.
- Ensure that no child is transferred to Afghan custody if there are substantial grounds for the danger of being subject to torture and ill treatment.
- Enact and apply a full prohibition of arms exports... as well as any kind of military assistance to countries where children are known to be, or may potentially be, recruited or used in armed conflict... Review and amend the 2008 Child Soldiers Prevention Act with the view to withdrawing the possibility to allow for presidential waivers to these countries.
- Raise the current voluntary recruitment age into the armed forces to 18 years in order to promote and strengthen the protection of children.
- Amend the No Child Left Behind Act... to ensure that recruitment practices do not actively target persons under the age of 18, abolish the recruiter quota system and ensure that military recruiters access to high school grounds be limited.
- Ensure that families and children are properly informed of the voluntary nature of the JROTC program.
- Ensure that JROTC is not used as a substitute for regular school activity.
- Ban military-type training including the use of firearms for children and ensure than any military training for children take into account human rights principles.
- Include human rights and peace education in the curricula of all schools, including military schools.
NATO responded to the UN report by pointing out that civilian casualties caused by the alliance plummeted by nearly 50 percent in 2012 and by asserting-- correctly-- that the vast majority of Afghan civilian deaths are caused by the Taliban and other insurgents.
"The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child's concerns about reports of the death of hundreds of children as a result of attacks and air strikes by the US military in Afghanistan are categorically unfounded," a NATO statement said, apparently ignoring the truth that hundreds of children have indeed died from coalition violence since the 2001 invasion.
"Equally unsubstantiated is their assertion that US forces use indiscriminate force during their operations," the NATO statement continues. "Finally, the committee's assertion that US troops do not exercise precautionary measures is entirely false."