July 6, 2000

Clinton Signs International Agreements to Help Protect Children


New York Times- July 6, 2000




UNITED NATIONS, July 5 -- President Clinton signed two international agreements today, one intended to prevent anyone under 18 from being sent to war and the other to protect children from exploitation by the sex trade and other forms of human trafficking.


 "To give life to our dream of a global economy that lifts all people, first we must stand together for all children," Mr. Clinton said. Several hundred thousand children are fighting in wars, some in brutal civil conflicts. And tens of millions of children are trafficked around the world as bonded labor or sex slaves, according to United Nations estimates.


The two agreements Mr. Clinton signed are formally known as the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict and the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography. Both were approved in May by the General Assembly as additions to the 1990 Convention on the Rights of the Child, which the United States also signed, in 1995, but has never ratified.


That core covenant on children's rights has been ratified by 191 nations, with only one other holdout, Somalia, which is effectively without a government.


An American signature is important in giving a measure momentum around the world, officials say. But United Nations officials and diplomats from many countries have grown accustomed to seeing the administration in Washington back away from a fight to ratify agreements after meeting resistance in the Pentagon or in the Senate, which has been reluctant to approve treaties on a range of issues, from the environment to international criminal law to arms control.


Mr. Clinton said he would send the agreements to the Senate promptly for approval within the year.


It took more than six years of international negotiations to win Pentagon approval for the measure on child soldiers. Until January, the American military had balked because the agreement sought a blanket ban on recruitment under the age of 18 and the United States recruited 17-year-olds with parental consent. After acknowledging that the measure could affect fewer than 3,000 of the 1.4 million Americans in uniform, the Pentagon dropped its objections.


The agreement on child soldiers, which is intended to apply not only to national armies but also to guerrilla forces or irregulars who recruit, often forcibly, the majority of the 300,000 children thought to be involved in armed conflict, asks governments to raise to at least 16 the minimum age of recruitment, and demands that no one under 18 be involved in combat.


The second agreement signed by President Clinton makes it a criminal offense to sell, trade or use children for a variety of purposes including sexual exploitation and pornography. The measure was first proposed by Cuba and Guatemala, among other nations, because of other perceived violations of children's rights, including the selling of organs and forced adoptions, said Marjorie Newman-Williams, communications director of Unicef, the United Nations children's fund.


But with the rapid growth in human trafficking, especially the sale of girls into brothels in Asia, the measure has gained very wide support in the United States, Europe and other regions. Six nations now have signed the agreement; 10 ratifications are needed for it to come into force.