U.S. abandons principle on child soldiers

Sunday, October 31, 2010; 7:41 PM

This week, the Obama administration had a choice: Stand with children exploited as soldiers or with the militaries guilty of exploiting them ["Obama grants waiver that allows U.S. aid to continue to four countries using child soldiers," news story, Oct. 28]. It opted for the latter.

Despite claims to be putting the four offending countries "on notice," the decision to waive a cut-off of military aid has exactly the opposite effect. The United States has sent a clear message to Yemen, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Chad that they run no serious risk of sanctions. Other governments have also gotten the message.

Take Colombia, the staunchest of U.S. allies in South America. Recently, we conducted dozens of interviews with former Colombian child soldiers, including some used as spies by the military. They told us of their long struggle to overcome the trauma of a childhood abruptly ended as they were forced into a life of violence and combat. Thanks to the waiver, the Colombian government now has even less reason to end this human rights violation.

Unless the administration reverses its position, U.S. taxpayers will continue to foot the bill for militaries that turn children into killers.

Yifat Susskind, New York

The writer is policy and communications director for MADRE: Rights, Resources and Results for Women Worldwide.

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