President Barack Obama issued waivers to seven countries that employ child soldiers, issuing them millions of dollars in military assistance.
Obama must issue waivers to get around the 2008 Child Soldiers Prevention Act, which prohibits U.S. military assistance to countries that use child soldiers on the battlefield. The countries are South Sudan, Somalia, Congo, Nigeria, Rwanda, Iraq and Myanmar.
Human Rights Watch notes that “since the law went into effect in 2010, the Obama administration has issued such waivers in 26 of 33 cases, allowing governments using child soldiers to receive hundreds of millions of dollars in US military aid.” The group continues “withholding at least a portion of US military aid would provide foreign governments with an incentive to curb child recruitment.”
The U.S. is currently working with the Iraqi military in a campaign to seize territory from the Islamic State, with no reprimand to the government over its child soldier use. Human Rights Watch also warned in late August that Iraqi government-backed militias are recruiting children for the U.S.-backed effort to retake the city of Mosul from ISIS.
South Sudan, which was also hailed by the Obama administration as the world’s youngest democracy, has once again erupted into civil war. The United Nations believes nearly 16,000 child soldiers have joined the South Sudanese military since the civil war began in 2013. The Associated Press reports that children as young as 12 are being recruited by senior military leaders, a significant violation of international law. South Sudan will now receive nearly $30 million in U.S. aid.
“The United States can use the possibility of a waiver to provide an incentive for reform while continuing to work closely with those governments to end the use and recruitment of child soldiers,” a U.S. spokesman told the AP when pressed about the payments. The benefits of providing the aid and maintaining leverage “would be in the national interest of the United States,” according to The White House.
“Unconditional military aid sends a terrible message that the US knowingly supports countries that use children to fight,” advocacy director for Human Rights Watch Jo Becker said in a June statement.
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