Flashback to six years ago, and no one could stop talking about Joseph Kony. In case you were living under a rock in 2012, Joseph Kony was a Ugandan warlord, head of the Lord’s Resistance Army, which used child soldiers to terrorize civilians across Central Africa. He was brought to fame through the documentary “Kony 2012” as it caused an uproar throughout the United States.Although the media hype quickly died down, the United States Pentagon spent $800 million trying to hunt down Kony up until June of 2017.
Kony isn’t the first, nor will he be the last, person to use child soldiers. Today, child soldiers are predominantly used across the Middle East and Africa, with South Sudan having the largest concentration in Africa.
So, what exactly has the international community done about this global issue? Legislation like the Additional Protocols to the 1949 Geneva Conventions and the Convention on the Rights of the Child have been adopted and opened for signature. The Rome Statute of 1998 established the International Criminal Court in 2002, and recognized conscripting and enlisting children under the age of 15 as a war crime.
There have been successes in individual countries like Somalia, and Afghanistan, but I think that it’s worth examining what exactly the United States has done.
Congress signed the Child Soldiers Prevention Act (CSPA) in 2008. The Act restricted military support to countries that were identified by the State Department as having recruited and used child soldiers in their militaries. However, the prohibitions can be waived in the name of U.S. national interest. In June of 2017, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was accused of breaching the act. The department recognized Iraq, Myanmar, and Afghanistan as using child recruitment and conscription, yet Tillerson decided to exclude them from the list.
But why does any of this matter to you and me? If the United States is going to label itself as a moral beacon, then they’d better act like one. There seems to be a double standard at play in American foreign policy; protect human rights, as long as they serve American interests. Additionally, the United States is missing opportunities to make real change. Ever since the conclusion of World War I, it has been the responsibility of the United States to maintain the world order, and to be a guarantor of human rights. What kind of message does it send about the United States when we continue to send money to governments that use child soldiers?
The change starts now. My advice for soon to be Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is to do better. As the American public awaits for Tillerson to step out and Pompeo to step in, there are actions that we as citizens can take. Child Soldiers International, War Child, and UNICEF are just a few organizations that accept time and donations that work toward making a difference.
Whatever active role you chose to take, reading this article is a great first step. It is crucial to raise awareness and to become informed of issues that affect not just us, but the rest of humanity.