The Kids Aren’t All Right
Presidential Waivers, Child Soldiers, and an American-Made Army in Africa
By Nick Turse
MALAKAL, South Sudan — I didn’t really think he was going to shoot me. There was no anger in his eyes. His finger may not have been anywhere near the trigger. He didn’t draw a bead on me. Still, he was a boy and he was holding an AK-47 and it was pointed in my direction.
It was unnerving.
I don’t know how old he was. I’d say 16, though maybe he was 18 or 19. But there were a few soldiers nearby who looked even younger — no more than 15.
When I was their age, I wasn’t trusted to drive, vote, drink, get married, gamble in a casino, serve on a jury, rent a car, or buy a ticket to an R-rated movie. It was mandatory for me to be in school. The law decreed just how many hours I could work and prohibited my employment in jobs deemed too dangerous for kids — like operating mixing machines in bakeries or repairing elevators. No one, I can say with some certainty, would have thought it a good idea to put an automatic weapon in my hands. But someone thought it was acceptable for them. A lot of someones actually. Their government — the government of South Sudan — apparently thought so. And so did mine, the government of the United States.
During the early 2000s, as thousands of refugee “Lost Boys” who had fled the civil war in southern Sudan began to be resettled in cities across the United States, their brothers and sisters back home continued to suffer as civilians or as child combatants. Between 2001 and 2006, however, as international pressure mounted and the civil war waned, some 20,000 child soldiers were also reportedly demobilized by the SPLA, although thousands remained in the force for a variety of reasons, including an extreme lack of other opportunities.
By 2010, when the SPLA pledged to demobilize all of its child soldiers by the end of the year, there were an estimated 900 children still serving in the force. The next year, under terms of the agreement that ended the civil war, the people of southern Sudan voted for their independence. Six months later, on July 9th, South Sudan became the world’s newest nation, prompting a strong statement of support from President Barack Obama: “I am confident that the bonds of friendship between South Sudan and the United States will only deepen in the years to come. As Southern Sudanese undertake the hard work of building their new country, the United States pledges our partnership as they seek the security, development, and responsive governance that can fulfill their aspirations and respect their human rights.”
While child soldiers, in fact, remained in the SPLA, the U.S. nonetheless engaged in a years-long effort to pour billions of dollars in humanitarian aid, as well as hundreds of millions of dollars of military and security assistance, into South Sudan. Here’s the catch in all this: the Child Soldiers Prevention Act (CSPA), passed by Congress in 2008 and enacted in 2010, prohibits the United States from providing military assistance to governments using child soldiers. This means that the Obama administration should have been barred from providing South Sudan with military assistance in 2011. The government, however, relied on a technicality to gain an exemption — claiming the list of barred countries was created before the new nation formally came into existence.
for full article: