Even I, a political junkie, will be glad when Tuesday’s results are in, the presidential campaigns stop and speeches given at rallies will no longer air on every news program. While I realize that there will still be the 100 day critiquing period of our next president, it will be a breath of fresh air to encounter actual, substantial news other than hearing of Gov. Sarah Palin’s (R-Alaska) Neiman Marcus shopping spree or watching Sen. Barack Obama’s (D-Ill.) paid “infomercial” replace prime time television. Somewhere lost in the hustle and bustle of election season though, the media overlooked President George W. Bush signing the Child Soldiers Accountability Act.
Earlier this month, the Child Soldiers Accountability Act became a new U.S. law, passing unanimously in the Senate and House of Representatives earlier in September. Under this legislation, it makes it a federal crime to knowingly recruit or use children under the age of 15 as soldiers. The United States can now also prosecute any individual on American soil for this offense, even if the children served or were recruited outside U.S. borders. Penalties range from up to 20 years or up to life in prison if found that their actions resulted in a child’s death.
By implementing this legislation, the United States can no longer act as a safe haven for war criminals who use or recruit children as soldiers. According to Human Rights Watch, the use of child soldiers is reported in more than 17 countries including Columbia, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo-where children can easily use the proliferation of small arms and lightweight automatic weapons.
In 2005, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued five arrest warrants for five Lord’s Resistant Army commanders in Uganda, along with other crimes, for enlisting children as soldiers. A year later, the ICC issued an arrest warrant for Thomas Lubanga, charged with conscripting children under the age of 15. In 2007, the Special Court for Sierra Leone became the first international court to issue convictions for child soldier recruitment. After years of the ICC and other international court systems prosecuting the recruitment of child soldiers, the United States has finally revived its moral conscious. The recruitment and conscription of child soldiers should be never be tolerated nor overlooked. For a country that takes pride in civil liberties and human dignity, it’s appalling to see how long it took for the United States to enact this legislation.
This law brings the United States into more compliance with international law and treaty obligations. No longer will American soil serve as a refuge for war criminals.