Child sol­dier stud­ies crit­i­cize U.S. re­cruit­ment prac­tices

The Washington Times Weekly - - International Perspective - By Betsy Pisik

NEW YORK — Two new stud­ies into the prob­lem of child sol­diers turn their ire on the United States, charg­ing that the Pen­tagon is so hun­gry for en­list­ments that it is al­low­ing of­fi­cials to vi­o­late U.S. and in­ter­na­tional laws pro­hibit­ing the re­cruit­ment of mi­nors for mil­i­tary ser­vice.

The sur­veys say re­cruiters are putting un­due pres­sure on un­der­age boys and girls, some­times mis­rep­re­sent­ing the terms of mil­i­tary ser­vice, in­flat­ing com­pen­sa­tion, or fal­si­fy­ing ap­pli­cants’ health or crim­i­nal records to avoid their re­jec­tion.

In ad­di­tion, Hu­man Rights Watch and the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union say in sep­a­rate re­ports that the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion’s No Child Left Be­hind Act gives un­prece­dented ac­cess to the records of high school ju­niors and se­niors, al­low­ing re­cruiters to con­tact them di­rectly with­out parental con­sent.

“Pub­lic schools serve as prime re­cruit­ing grounds for the mil­i­tary, and the U.S. mil­i­tary’s gen­er­ally ac­cepted pro­ce­dures for re­cruit­ment of high school stu­dents plainly vi­o­late” in­ter­na­tion­ally ne­go­ti­ated norms, ac­cord­ing to the ACLU’s “Sol­diers of Mis­for­tune” re­port re­leased two weeks ago.

U.S. law per­mits re­cruit­ing at 17 and front-line de­ploy­ment at 18. A key in­ter­na­tional treaty sets the same stan­dards.

Pen­tagon spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Withington, in an emailed re­ply to ques­tions from The Wash­ing­ton Times, de­fended the prac­tice of re­cruit­ing at schools.

“It is im­por­tant for re­cruiters to be able to in­form to­day’s youth, ei­ther on or off cam­pus, of the many ben­e­fits of serv­ing in to­day’s mil­i­tary,” he wrote. “While the mil­i­tary may not be for ev­ery­one, it does pro­vide many of our youth a great op­por­tu­nity to fur­ther their ed­u­ca­tion, gain a mar­ketable skill, be­come in­de­pen­dent, and serve their coun­try.”

Col. Withington ar­gued that the use of data pro­vided un­der the fed­eral ed­u­ca­tion law was ap­pro­pri­ate.

“The law only re­quires schools to pro­vide the name, ad­dress, and tele­phone num­bers of their ju­nior and se­nior stu­dents. By law, lo­cal school ad­min­is­tra­tors are re­quired to no­tify the par­ents of their right to have their son’s or daugh­ter’s in­for­ma­tion with­held,” he wrote. He noted that par­ents or stu­dents may opt out.

The United States is one of 63 na­tions that per­mit the re­cruit­ing of mi­nors into the na­tional armed forces, al­though only a few al­low sol­diers 17 and younger to de­ploy to com­bat sit­u­a­tions, ac­cord­ing to the Hu­man Rights Watch re­port on the global use of child sol­diers re­leased May 20.

Three thou­sand mid­dle schools of­fer Ju­nior ROTC clubs, which the ACLU says reach out to chil­dren as young as 14.

“The added strain of ful­fill­ing en­list­ment quo­tas nec­es­sary to carry out sus­tained U.S. mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions in Iraq and Afghanistan with­out re­in­sti­tut­ing a draft has con­trib­uted to a rise in ag­gres­sive re­cruit­ment ef­forts and al­le­ga­tions of mis­con­duct and abuse by re­cruiters,” the ACLU found.

The Pen­tagon and in­di­vid­ual ser­vices have grap­pled with ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties by their re­cruiters: An Au­gust 2006 re­port from the Gov­ern­ment Ac­count­abil­ity Of­fice (GAO) found that the in­creased pres­sure on front-line re­cruiters had yielded sig­nif­i­cant vi­o­la­tions of their rule books, and that many of those in­ter­viewed said the Iraq war had made their jobs more dif­fi­cult.

The GAO found that sub­stan­ti­ated “re­cruiter ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties” in­creased from just over 400 to 630 in­ci­dents be­tween 2004 and 2005, and that crim­i­nal vi­o­la­tions more than dou­bled, to 70 in­ci­dents, in that time. Ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties spike at the end of the month, when tar­gets are not met.

The of­fice did not spec­ify how many in­ci­dents were re­lated to un­der­age re­cruit­ing.

“The United States is in a real lead­er­ship po­si­tion on this is­sue,” said Jo Becker, a co-au­thor of the Hu­man Rights Watch study, ti­tled “Child Sol­diers Global Re­port 2008.”

“It’s one of the coun­tries that has changed re­cruit­ing prac­tice to com­ply with the new in­ter­na­tional law in 2003, and it no longer sends 17-year-olds to com­bat,” Ms. Becker said.

But the group and sev­eral law­mak­ers still have con­cerns about the No Child Left Be­hind Act of 2001, which re­quires schools to forgo some fed­eral fund­ing un­less they give re­cruiters ac­cess to stu­dents’ con­tact and per­sonal in­for­ma­tion and al­low re­cruit­ing ac­tiv­i­ties on school premises.

The ACLU quotes the re­cruiters’ hand­book as telling mil­i­tary of­fi­cials to be­come a familiar pres­ence on cam­pus, coach­ing sports, at­tend­ing school assem­blies and lunch­rooms, and be­friend­ing stu­dent lead­ers.

“The ma­jor­ity of par­ents are never in­formed that they can opt out of this records trans­fer,” Ms. Becker said. “Part of the harm is that they get ac­cess to the child, [re­cruiters] can start call­ing his home, set­ting up ap­point­ments, send lit­er­a­ture or free­bies in the mail.”

A bill in­tro­duced this year would al­low re­cruiters to ac­cess stu­dent in­for­ma­tion only with parental per­mis­sion.

Th­ese were among the is­sues that were dis­cussed May 22, at the first re­view of Amer­i­can com­pli­ance with an amend­ment to the Con­ven­tion on the Rights of the Child, an amend­ment the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion signed and helped draft.

About two dozen gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials from the de­part­ments of State, De­fense, Jus­tice, Health and Hu­man Ser­vices and oth­ers were in Geneva to present and de­fend the gov­ern­ment’s po­si­tion on the re­cruit­ing of stu­dents age 17 and younger.

The United States and So­ma­lia are the only two na­tions not to sign onto the orig­i­nal covenant, but they are al­lowed to join the so­called op­tional pro­to­cols, which for­bid the use of child sol­diers and child traf­fick­ing.

As­so­ci­ated Press

An Amer­i­can sol­dier in ac­tion: Sgt. Ben­jamin Lea­zott, from Franklin, Mass., se­cures the area next to a gas sta­tion that caught on fire in the Karkh neigh­bor­hood of Bagh­dad, Iraq on May 20.

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