January 24, 2000, New York Times: An Accord on Child Soldiers

January 24, 2000, New York Times: An Accord on Child Soldiers

 

             From Colombia and Chechnya to Congo and Sierra Leone, some

          300,000 child soldiers -- some as young as 10 -- are killing, raping

          and maiming in today's conflict zones. Press-ganged or lured by the

          promise of booty or revenge, many of them orphans, some not much

          taller than their automatic rifles, children are among the most readily

          brutalized participants in modern warfare.

 

          So the new international protocol banning the use of child soldiers,

          agreed to last week in Geneva, is a salutary achievement. The new

          accord will revise the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the

          Child, raising the minimum age for participants in armed conflicts from 15

          to 18.

 

          The Clinton administration, under pressure from the Pentagon, had

          previously blocked progress on the accord, insisting that any agreement

          allow the United States to continue sending volunteers as young as 17

          into combat. But after months of resistance, the Pentagon accepted a

          compromise allowing it to continue recruiting and training 17-year-olds

          while taking "all feasible measures" to keep them out of combat. That

          cleared the way for an agreement that is after all aimed not primarily at

          the United States but at third-world countries and rebel insurgencies for

          which children are the cheapest and most expendable killers and cannon

          fodder.

 

          It is noteworthy that the chief American negotiator on the protocol,

          Michael Southwick, has had first-hand exposure to the problem of child

          soldiers as a former ambassador to Uganda, a country with a long history

          of such exploitation. Uganda's national army, which came to power in the

          1980's in part by arming orphans, is currently fighting a rebel insurgency

          in the north, known as the Lord's Resistance Army, which has abducted

          thousands of children for use as soldiers and sex slaves.

 

          This new protocol will provide a valuable basis for nations to exert

          political and diplomatic pressure on states and rebel movements that seek

          legitimacy in the eyes of the international community. Combined with the

          new International Criminal Court, whose governing statute, agreed upon

          in 1998 over American objections, defined the recruitment or use of

          children under 15 as a war crime, this new accord represents a

          potentially powerful instrument for combating this horrific form of

          exploitation.