Human Rights Watch called on President Clinton to use his speech in Geneva this Wednesday to back a stronger international ban on the use of child soldiers.
Although trade unions and many governments supported a total ban on the participation of children in armed conflict, strong U.S. pressure resulted in the adoption of a much narrower prohibition on "forced or compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflicts."
"Child soldiers are in terrible danger no matter how they are recruited," said Jo Becker, Children's Rights Advocacy Director for Human Rights Watch. "This narrow provision fails to protect thousands of child soldiers who are lured or coerced into warfare."
An estimated 300,000 child soldiers currently participate in armed conflicts around the world, sustaining far higher casualty rates than their adult counterparts and suffering serious psychological damage.
The United States has been a leading opponent of another proposed international agreement to establish eighteen as a minimum age for recruitment and participation in armed conflict. The United States is one of a minority of countries that still recruits minors, although it has fewer than 7,000 minors in its 1.5 million active duty force. Five years of United Nations-sponsored negotiation have failed to produce a comprehensive ban on the use of child soldiers, largely due to U.S. opposition.
Becker said the United States was sacrificing strong international protections for children in order to protect its own military recruitment policies. "Recruits under the age of eighteen are a neglible part of the U.S. armed forces," she said. "There's no reason that thousands of children around the world should be at risk, just so the Pentagon won't be inconvenienced."