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    US Takes Stronger Stance on Child Soldier Prevention Amid Global Increase

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    The plight of child soldiers remains a persistent and deeply troubling issue across the globe. Despite the United Nations treaty banning the use of child soldiers being in force for over two decades, reports indicate that their recruitment and deployment in hostilities is on the rise, with a 21 percent increase in verified cases in 2022 alone.

    In response to this concerning trend, the United States, as a world leader and the top arms exporter, has taken renewed steps to leverage its influence and mitigate this human rights crisis.

    The Child Soldiers Prevention Act (CSPA) of 2008 represents a key legislative tool designed to restrict U.S. arms sales and military assistance to countries complicit in the recruitment or use of child soldiers.

    The act has, however, faced implementation challenges, with significant waivers being granted in the past for what has been deemed the “national interest” of the United States. This practice has led to nearly 97 percent of the assistance that could have been prohibited under the CSPA being allowed to flow to implicated governments.

    Recent decisions by the Biden administration signal a potential shift in U.S. policy and commitment to the CSPA’s objectives. The administration implicated a record 17 governments in the recruitment or use of child soldiers for fiscal 2024 arms sales and military assistance, subjecting nine of them to the full scope of the CSPA’s restrictions.

    This marked a significant step forward, as it was the first time that no full waivers were granted to the countries on the list, ensuring that some military assistance would be withheld.

    Nevertheless, criticism persists that more can be done. The administration decided not to implicate several countries previously suggested to be complicit and waived restrictions on over $1.3 billion in aid to Egypt.

    These actions raise questions about the consistency and robustness of U.S. efforts to combat this human rights abuse.

    Furthermore, the broader international effort to enforce existing protocols, such as the UN’s Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (OPAC), has been called into question.

    The protocol, ratified by 173 countries, forbids non-state armed groups from recruiting anyone under the age of 18 for any purpose. Yet, enforcement has been lax, with various armed conflicts around the world continuing to exploit children as soldiers.

    Efforts to prosecute individuals responsible for such recruitment, like that of Dominic Ongwen, a former child soldier himself who was sentenced by the International Criminal Court for committing war crimes, including the brutal conscription of children, highlight the role that international and domestic laws can play in addressing the issue.

    Yet, there remains a pressing need for more comprehensive measures to hold perpetrators accountable and to provide adequate rehabilitation and reintegration support for former child soldiers.

    The United States has a moral responsibility to lead by example and uphold its commitments under OPAC and the CSPA.

    By engaging with security partners to demand concrete action, vigorously applying sanctions, and supporting rehabilitation programs, the U.S. can help catalyze a multilateral effort to end the use of child soldiers. This approach would not only affirm the country’s position on human rights but also contribute to global peace and security.

    As the world grapples with numerous challenges, from pandemics to protracted conflicts, the urgency to tackle the exploitation of children in warfare remains as critical as ever.

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