Child Soldiers

Child Soldiers

The Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008 (CSPA) was signed into law on December 23, 2008 (Title IV of Pub. L. 110-457), and took effect on June 21, 2009. The CSPA requires publication in the annual TIP Report of a list of foreign governments identified during the previous year as having governmental armed forces or government-supported armed groups that recruit and use child soldiers, as defined in the Act. These determinations cover the reporting period beginning April 1, 2013 and ending March 31, 2014.

For the purpose of the CSPA, and generally consistent with the provisions of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, the term “child soldier” means:

  1. any person under 18 years of age who takes a direct part in hostilities as a member of governmental armed forces;
  2. any person under 18 years of age who has been compulsorily recruited into governmental armed forces;
  3. any person under 15 years of age who has been voluntarily recruited into governmental armed forces; or
  4. any person under 18 years of age who has been recruited or used in hostilities by armed forces distinct from the armed forces of a state.

The term “child soldier” includes any person described in clauses (ii), (iii), or (iv) who is serving in any capacity, including in a support role such as a “cook, porter, messenger, medic, guard, or sex slave.”

Governments identified on the list are subject to restrictions, in the following fiscal year, on certain security assistance and commercial licensing of military equipment. The CSPA, as amended, prohibits assistance to governments that are identified in the list under the following authorities: International Military Education and Training, Foreign Military Financing, Excess Defense Articles, and Peacekeeping Operations, with exceptions for some programs undertaken pursuant to the Peacekeeping Operations authority. The CSPA also prohibits the issuance of licenses for direct commercial sales of military equipment to such governments. Beginning October 1, 2014 and effective throughout Fiscal Year 2015, these restrictions will apply to the listed countries, absent a presidential national interest waiver, applicable exception, or reinstatement of assistance pursuant to the terms of the CSPA. The determination to include a government in the CSPA list is informed by a range of sources, including first-hand observation by U.S. government personnel and research and credible reporting from various United Nations entities, international organizations, local and international NGOs, and international media outlets.

The 2014 CSPA List includes governments in the following countries:

1. Burma
2. Central African Republic
3. Democratic Republic of the Congo
4. Rwanda
5. Somalia
6. South Sudan
7. Sudan
8. Syria
9. Yemen

Special Court of Sierra Leone: Accountability at the Highest Level for Child Soldiering Offenses

The Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) was established in 2002 by agreement between the Government of the Republic of Sierra Leone and the United Nations to try those most responsible for crimes against humanity, war crimes, and other serious violations of international humanitarian law, including conscripting or recruiting children under the age of 15 years, committed in the civil war. Since its inception, the Special Court has handed down several important decisions in cases involving allegations related to the conscripting or enlisting of children under the age of 15 years into armed forces or armed groups. During Sierra Leone’s civil war, all parties to the conflict recruited and used child soldiers. Children were forced to fight, commit atrocities, and were often sexually abused. Former Liberian President Charles Taylor was convicted by the SCSL on 11 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes for his role in supporting armed groups, including the Revolutionary United Front, in the planning and commission of crimes committed during the conflict. In a landmark 2004 decision, the Court held that individual criminal responsibility for the crime of recruiting children under the age of 15 years had crystallized as customary international law prior to November 1996. In June 2007, the Court delivered the first judgment of an international or mixed tribunal convicting persons of conscripting or enlisting children under the age of 15 years into armed forces or using them to participate actively in hostilities.

In 2013, the Special Court reached another milestone by upholding the conviction of former Liberian President Charles Taylor. The judgment marked the first time a former head of state had been convicted in an international or hybrid court of violations of international law. Taylor was convicted, among other charges, of aiding and abetting sexual slavery and conscription of child soldiers. After more than a decade of working toward accountability for crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Sierra Leone, the SCSL transitioned on December 31, 2013, to a successor mechanism, the Residual Special Court for Sierra Leone, which will continue to provide a variety of ongoing functions, including witness protection services and management of convicted detainees. Its work stands for the proposition that the international community can achieve justice and accountability for crimes committed, even by proxy, against the most vulnerable—children in armed conflict.

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