Pressed by the demands of the "global war
on terrorism," the United States is violating an international protocol
that forbids the recruitment of children under the age of 18 for military service,
according to a new
report [.pdf] released Tuesday by a major civil rights group that charged
that recruitment practices target children as young as 11 years old.
The 46-page report, "Soldiers of Misfortune," which was prepared
by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for submission to the UN Committee
on the Rights of the Child, also found that the U.S. military disproportionately
targets poor and minority public school students.
Military recruiters, according to the report, use "exaggerated promises
of financial rewards for enlistment, [which] undermines the voluntariness of
their enlistment." In some cases documented by the report, recruiters
used coercion, deception, and even sexual abuse in order to gain recruits.
Perpetrators of such practices are only very rarely punished, the report found.
"The United States military's procedures for recruiting students plainly
violate internationally accepted standards and fail to protect youth from abusive
and aggressive recruitment tactics," said Jennifer Turner of the ACLU
Human Rights Project.
The increased aggressiveness of military recruiters is due in major part,
according to the report, to the increased pressure to meet enlistment quotas
caused by ongoing U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan to which
nearly 200,000 soldiers and Marines are currently deployed.
The pressure created by current military commitments has not only translated
into enhanced recruitment efforts among children under 18. The armed forces
have also lowered their standards for minimum-intelligence tests, made it easier
to enlist individuals with criminal records, and increased re-enlistment bonuses
for soldiers who might otherwise be tempted to leave the service.
The report, which also detailed Washington's failure to protect foreign child
soldiers being held by U.S. forces at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility
and elsewhere around the world as part of its submission to the UN Committee
on the Rights of the Child, assesses Washington's compliance with the Optional
Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict.
The Protocol, which is attached to the Convention on the Rights of the Child,
is designed to protect the rights of children under 18 who may be recruited
by the military and deployed to war.
Among other provisions, the Protocol sets an absolute minimum age for recruitment
of 16 and requires that all recruitment activities directed at children under
18 be carried out with the consent of the child's parents or guardian, that
any such recruitment be genuinely volunteer, and the military fully inform
the child of the duties involved in military service and require reliable proof
of age before enlistment.
While the United States is one of only two countries the other being
Somalia to have never ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child,
the U.S. Senate ratified the Protocol in 2002, making it binding under U.S.,
as well as international, law. Unlike most other industrialized countries that
set their minimum recruitment age at 18, the Senate decided on 17 as the absolute
minimum for the United States.
According to the ACLU report, however, the U.S. armed services "regularly
target children under 17 for military recruitment, heavily recruiting on high
school campuses, in school lunchrooms, and in classes."
The army's own Recruiting Program Handbook, for example, instructs its more
than 10,600 recruiters to approach high school students as early as possible,
and explicitly before their senior year, which, for most students, starts at
age 17. "Remember, first to contact, first to contract
just mean seniors or grads," according to an excerpt quoted in the report.
"If you wait until they're seniors, it's probably too late."
Once recruiters are inside their assigned high schools, the Army's Recruiting
Command instructs them to "effectively penetrate the school market"
and be "so helpful and so much a part of the school scene that you are
in constant demand," with the goal of "school ownership that can
only lead to a greater number of Army enlistments." That includes volunteering
to serve as coaches for high school sports teams, involvement with the local
Boy Scouts, attending as many school functions and assemblies, and even "eating
lunch in the school cafeteria several times each month."
The report documents a number of specific cases, mostly in New York and California
the two most populous states with the largest number of minority high school
students in which recruiters clearly followed these instructions. In a survey
of nearly 1,000 children, aged 14 to 17, enrolled in New York City high schools,
the ACLU New York affiliate found that more than one five respondents equally
distributed among the different grades reported the use of class time by
military recruiters, and 35 percent said military recruiters had access to
multiple locations in their schools where they could meet students.
The report also noted that the Pentagon's central recruitment database systematically
collected information on 16-year-olds and, in some cases even 15-year-olds,
including their name, home address and telephones, e-mail addresses, grade
point averages, height and weight information, and racial and ethnic data obtained
from a variety of public and private sources. The explicit purpose of the database
is to assist the military in its "direct marketing recruiting efforts."
As the result of a 2006 ACLU lawsuit, the Pentagon agreed to stop collecting
data about students younger than 16.
But recruitment efforts even dip below 15-year-olds, according to the report,
which found that the Pentagon's Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC), which
operate at more than 3,000 junior high schools, middle schools, and high schools
across the country, target children as young as 14 for recruitment. The report
cited recent studies that found that enrollment in some JROTC programs was
JROTC "cadets," of whom there were nearly 300,000 in 2005, receive
military uniforms and conduct military drills and marches, handle real and
wooden rifles, and learn military history, according to the report, which noted
that the program is explicitly designed to "enhance recruiting efforts."
African American and Latin students make up 54 percent of JROTC programs.
JROTC also oversees the Middle School Cadet Corps (MSCC), in which children
ages 11 to 14 can participate, according to the report. Florida, Texas, and
Chicago schools offer military-run after-school MSCC programs in which children
take part in drills with wooden rifles and military chants, learn first-aid,
civics, military history, and, in some cases, wear uniforms to school for inspection
once a week.
The Army also uses an online video game, called "America's Army,"
to attract potential recruits as young as 13, train them to use weapons, and
engage in virtual combat and other military missions. Launched in 2002, the
video game had attracted 7.5 million registered users by September 2006.
"Military recruitment tools aimed at youth under 18, including Pentagon-produced
video games, military training, corps, and databases of students' personal
information, have no place in America's schools," said Turner.
(Inter Press Service)