October 1, 2013

The US government announced today it will withhold military assistance from four countries – the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, and Rwanda – because of their recruitment and use of child soldiers. This is a big improvement from previous years when the Obama administration routinely allowed governments to receive US military assistance even while they had child soldiers in their forces.

In 2008, Congress adopted the Child Soldiers Prevention Act to prevent governments using child soldiers from benefiting from US military training and assistance. The law provides the US with powerful leverage to pressure military allies to end the practice. But the Obama administration has waived these sanctions far more often than not, giving governments little incentive to take the issue seriously.

Last year we saw how the law could really work. The Obama administration announced it would withhold foreign military financing and training from a Congolese battalion until Congo signed an agreement with the United Nations to end its use of child soldiers. The Congo had been dragging its feet on signing the plan for seven years, but signed the plan only five days after the US announcement.

This year, the administration will withhold at least some assistance from four countries, not just one. This will put real pressure on these countries to take some serious steps to end their use of child soldiers.

But some countries are still getting off too easy. Despite almost no effort to end its use of child soldiers, Yemen will receive more than  $20 million in foreign military financing with no strings attached.  South Sudan and Chad are also receiving full waivers. They have made progress, but it’s not enough.

The Obama administration’s attention to child soldiers is welcome, but there’s still more it can do to bring an end to this horrible practice.