Child Soldiers / Child Labor : U.S. Policy and Action
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
October 31, 2008
Child Soldiers: U.S. Policy and Action
The forced recruitment of children for use in armed conflict is defined as one of the “Worst Forms of Child Labor” under International Labor Organization Convention 182. An estimated 200,000 to 300,000 children under the age of 18 are serving as soldiers for both rebel groups and government forces in current armed conflicts worldwide.
U.S. Law and Policy Regarding Child Soldiers
The United States does not permit compulsory recruitment of any person under 18 for any type of military service. However, the U.S. does permit 17-year-olds to volunteer for service in its armed forces. This practice is subject to a range of safeguards, including requirements for proof of age prior and parental consent.
U.S. law and policy are consistent with its obligations under the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (OP), which permits governments to accept 16- or 17-year-old volunteers into their armed forces under certain conditions. The OP prohibits any compulsory recruitment of children under the age of 18 into governmental armed forces and requires State Parties to take “all feasible measures” to ensure that members of their armed forces that are under the age of 18 do not take a direct part in hostilities. It also requires Parties to prohibit and criminalize the recruitment and use in hostilities of persons under age 18 by non-state armed groups.
The forced or compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflict is defined as one of the “worst forms of child labor” under International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 182. The U.S. ratified this convention in 1999.
Section 699C of the 2008 Appropriations Act contains a U.S. foreign assistance restriction on those countries identified in the Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices as “having governmental armed forces or government supported armed groups, including paramilitaries, militias, or civil defense forces, that recruit or use child soldiers.” Section 699G on the Act also contains an assistance restriction on Sri Lanka dealing with child soldiers and other human rights abuses. The 2008 Appropriations Act was passed at the end of 2007.
New legislation addressing the issue of child soldiers has also recently been cleared for White House action. On September 15, 2008, the Child Soldier Accountability Act was passed by both the House and Senate, and cleared for White House action. This Act would prohibit the recruitment or use of child soldiers, extend U.S. criminal prohibitions relating to recruitment and use of child soldiers, designate certain persons who recruit or use child soldiers as inadmissible aliens, and allow the deportation of certain persons who recruit or use child soldiers.
U.S. Activities To Improve the Situation
The Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL), Bureau of African Affairs, Bureau for International Organization Affairs, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, Office of Trafficking in Persons, and the U.S. Mission to the UN are all involved in addressing children and armed conflict issues in some capacity. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) are also engaged on this issue.
USG Reporting: The Department of State’s annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices and the Trafficking in Persons Reports cite countries in which the recruitment of child soldiers occurs. The practice is also reported on in the DOL’s annual Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor Report mandated by the Trade and Development Act of 2000.
UN and Multilateral Efforts: The U.S. works with foreign governments, UN agencies, non-governmental organizations and others to monitor, report on, and prevent the unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers and to protect, assist, and rehabilitate children associated with fighting forces through Disarmament, Demobilization, Rehabilitation and Reintegration (DDRR) Programs. The DDRR programs include counseling, formal and informal education, vocational training and physical rehabilitation (e.g., prosthetics) for former child soldiers.
The U.S. is engaged with the UN Security Council and its Children and Armed Conflict (CAAC) Working Group to address children and armed conflict issues (UNSCR 1612). The CAAC Working Group reviewed a number of country situations this year (Burma, Burundi, Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nepal, Philippines, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan and Uganda) and made recommendations to various entities, including the Secretary-General, the government of the country concerned, rebel groups, and international organizations.
The U.S. encourages all countries to ratify ILO Convention 182 against the Worst Forms of Child Labor, as well as to sign and ratify the Optional Protocol.
USG Programming: In 2008, DRL is funding two grants totaling nearly $1 million for child soldier reintegration programs in Burundi, particularly girl child soldiers.
DOL currently has over $20million in funding to go towards five projects which specifically address child soldiers in Colombia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Nepal, Sierra Leone, and Uganda. DOL also funds an additional 14 projects to educate children and protect them from exploitation in countries recovering from armed conflict or in post-conflict situations.
Across seven war-affected countries, USAID has contributed more than $10 million over the past several years toward the demobilization of child combatants and reintegration into their communities. USAID’s Displaced Children and Orphans Fund and the Leahy War Victims Fund also support a variety of programs that address children in vulnerable situations, including children affected by armed conflict.
In 2006, the U.S. gave over $100 million to UNICEF, which is committed to improving the lives of children around the world.
Improved Coordination and Knowledge-sharing: While the activities of various U.S. agencies have contributed to addressing the child soldier issue, key agencies will need to work more effectively together to address the issue as a whole and its related challenges. Some challenges may include: the sexual exploitation of girls and women by child soldiers, reintegration of former child soldiers into their communities, re-recruitment of former child soldiers, protection of children during peacekeeping missions, and the flow of light weapons.
The Department of State promotes knowledge-sharing with other federal agencies engaged in ending unlawful child soldiering and protecting the interests of children. DRL has co-hosted seminars and fora to discuss policy and programming gaps, and to address specific problems, such as child soldiering. For more information about one of these fora, see Policy Forum on Children and Armed Conflict: Child Soldiers as Combatants, Victims, and Survivors.
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
October 31, 2008
Child Labor: U.S. Policy and Action
The U.S. Government works with foreign governments, United Nations (UN) agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and others to monitor, report on, and prevent the worst forms of child labor and to protect and assist children who are involved in exploitative child labor.
U.S. Policy Regarding Child Labor
Under the U.S. Tariff Act of 1930, the Department of Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement is charged with refusing entry to any goods identified as made by forced laborers, including children.
Additionally, in 1998, Executive Order 13126 prohibited the procurement by the USG of any items made by forced and indentured child labor. The Department of Labor (DOL) is responsible for maintaining a list of all such items. The list includes products in Burma and Pakistan.
In 1999 the U.S. ratified International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 182. The U.S. encourages all countries to ratify ILO Convention 182 against the Worst Forms of Child Labor and ILO Convention 138 on the Minimum Age.
Convention 182 defines the “worst forms of child labor” to include trafficking, forced and bonded labor, forced recruitment in the armed forces, use of children for prostitution or pornography, illicit activity, or work likely to harm the health, safety, or morals of children. As of 2008, 182 countries have ratified ILO Convention 182.
The U.S. continues to highlight the significance of the child labor issue through the Harkin-Engel Protocol to ensure that the chocolate that we eat does not come from the hands of children working under forced or harmful circumstances. The Protocol calls for the U.S. chocolate industry to certify that cocoa beans and their derivative products have been grown without any of the worst forms of child labor.
Trade preference programs such as the African Growth and Opportunity Act, Caribbean Basin Initiative and the Generalized Systems of Preferences contain eligibility criteria that include whether a country is “taking steps” or is making progress towards establishing the protection of internationally-recognized worker rights, including child labor.
The effective prohibition of child labor, particularly in its worst forms, is also included as a core labor standard in recent Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) signed by the U.S. As a result, parties to FTAs have an obligation to effectively enforce child labor laws in trade-related sectors.
U.S. Action To Improve the Situation
The Department of State’s annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices and the Trafficking in Persons Reports cite countries in which child labor occurs. The practice is also reported on in the Department of Labor’s annual Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor Report mandated by the Trade and Development Act of 2000.
The Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) oversees the Partnership to Eliminate Sweatshop program which aims to work with companies, governments, NGOs and worker organizations to promote worker rights and elimination of sweatshop labor worldwide, including by children.
In October 2006, DRL and DOL co-hosted the first Multi-stakeholders Cocoa Forum focused on encouraging responsible labor practices in West African cocoa producing regions. Several U.S. cocoa and chocolate manufacturers attended the meeting. Since that meeting DRL has regularly engaged with these companies and their industry associations to monitor the progress of their initiatives to eliminate the worst forms of child labor in the cocoa sector in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. Many of them presented a report on their progress at the second Multi-stakeholders Cocoa Forum co-hosted by DRL and Bureau of African Affairs in April 2007. That forum also included substantive discussion on the challenges that stakeholders have faced in implementing their initiatives and an exchange of ideas on how to overcome those obstacles. The third forum was co-hosted with the Belgian Government in June 2008.
The Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons has programs to combat child labor trafficking.
DOL has a program to combat exploitative child labor internationally and has $330 million in funding to go towards at least 89 currently active child labor projects worldwide. To implement these projects, DOL has funded a number of different organizations. One of the organizations to which DOL has provided funding is the ILO’s International Program on the Elimination of Child Labor (ILO-IPEC). These technical cooperation projects aim to remove and prevent children from engaging in hazardous work, provide children and their families with direct services, build the capacity of governments and local organizations to combat child labor, increase the knowledge base on child labor, raise public-awareness about the hazards of child labor and benefits of education. DOL also publishes information on international child labor issues through its reports on the topic.
Pursuant to Congressional appropriations language, DOL announced in 2006 the funding of a $4.3 million 3-year project to oversee public and private efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labor in the cocoa sector in Cote D’Ivoire and Ghana.
DRL and labor officers coordinate with the DOL’s Office of Child Labor, Forced Labor, and Human Trafficking and support their efforts with ILO-IPEC.