New Concern About Child Soldiers

By John Felton
CQ Global Researcher contributor
      Three events in recent weeks have brought renewed attention to the issue of children serving as fighters in civil conflict, a topic covered in CQ Global Researcher in July 2008. On May 21, the United Nations made public its latest annual report on Children and Armed Conflict, written by the secretary-general's special representative on that topic, Radhika Coomaraswamy. This year's report listed, for the first time, the "most persistent violators" of children in conflict -- 16 armed groups (including the "transitional government" of Somalia) repeatedly cited for the past five years for using children as soldiers.
      Nine of the groups (again including the Somali government) were cited as having killed, maimed, raped or used sexual violence against children. Uganda's notorious Lord's Resistance Army – which has terrorized in civilians in Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Chad and other countries -- was one of the most prominent groups on the list.
      The New York Times on June 14 focused on the use of child soldiers by the Somali transitional government, which has received millions of dollars in aid from the United States and other countries. Reporter Jeffrey Gettleman documented cases in which both the government's military and the Islamist insurgency that controls much of the country use children – some 12 years of age or even younger – as active fighters.
      Gettleman's story raised the possibility that the United States is indirectly paying these child soldiers as part of its aid program intended to help the wobbly government survive a strong challenge by the powerful Islamist insurgent group known as al-Shabaab. The report prompted some senators to press the U.S. government to pressure the Somali government to stop recruiting children, and to consider withholding U.S. aid to the transitional government until it assures the United States that such activities have been halted. The Somali government has vehemently denied that it recruits child solders.
      After a day-long meeting on the subject of child soldiers, the U.N. Security Council on June 16 – for the first time ever – expressed its readiness to take "targeted measures" against persistent violators of laws prohibiting the use of child soldiers. The council asked its Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict to work with sanctions committees and other groups to develop appropriate measures. Coomaraswamy and other child-rights advocates had been pressing the council to take this step for the past several years. However, the Security Council did not set a timetable for implementing the measures.