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US fails child soldiers in Somalia, Yemen, South Sudan

In Yemen, one-third of all fighters are estimated to be under 18 [AFP]

Date of publication: 30 September, 2015

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Human Rights Watch has called on Washington to impose limitations on the military aid it gives countries that recruit child soldiers.

The US should ensure countries that receive its military aid enforce regulations against child soldiers, Human Rights Watch has said.

President Barack Obama's administration has failed to take proper action against the exploitation of children in war, the human rights organisation argued.

Obama is expected soon to announce whether he will waive US sanctions on military foreign aid for the eight countries listed by the state department as using child soldiers - including Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

According to the UN, in some countries it is the government as well as non-state armed groups that are recruiting child soldiers.

In South Sudan, estimates suggested 12,000 children were fighting last year. In Yemen, it is thought one-third of all fighters are under 18, said HRW. Both governments receive military aid from the US.

     Estimates suggests there were 12,000 children fighting in South Sudan last year.


In 2010, a US law, the Child Soldiers Prevention Act, took effect, limiting the military support the US can offer governments using children in their armed forces.

Obama's administration, however, has failed to fully implement the law, according to HRW.

"[Obama has] invoked 'national interest' waivers to authorise nearly $1 billion in military assistance and arms sales for countries that are still using child soldiers," said Jo Becker, HRW's advocacy director for children's rights.

Despite using the law to limit the use of child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Chad, the same has not been seen in Somalia and Yemen.

In Somalia, the US administration has "authorised more than $15 million in military assistance over the past five years" despite nearly 200 child soldiers being recruited by the Somali National Army and allied militias last year, said HRW.

In Yemen, despite children being recruited by both sides, the US has given more than $250 million in military assistance and more than $57 million in arms sales over the past five years, the human rights organisation noted.

"The last five years suggest that President Obama too easily gives these governments a pass," said Becker.

"The Child Soldiers Prevention Act gives him a powerful tool to let US military aid recipients know that the use of child soldiers is unacceptable. He should use it."

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