As the junior senator from Illinois, Barack Obama co-sponsored a bill to restrict the U.S. government’s military support of countries that use children as soldiers. But President Obama has waived those very same sanctions in the name of “national interest,” bypassing the findings of a State Department report and allowing millions of dollars in military aid to flow to countries where children as young as 11 have been conscripted to fight — many of whom have died in one bloody conflict after another.
Mr. Obama’s actions have inflamed an army of critics, who say the waivers have put at-risk children in even greater danger.
“The implementation of the law by President Obama has been a big disappointment,” said Jo Becker, children’s rights advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. She said countries won’t get serious about ending the use of child soldiers until they think the United States is serious about withholding aid. “U.S. tax dollars should not go to governments that use child soldiers.”
Mr. Obama, however, has an opportunity to silence his critics as he decides over the next two months whether to withhold aid or give waivers to seven countries named in a new State Department report as using children — both boys and girls — as armed combatants.
Findings: Violations of U.S. and International Anti-Trafficking Laws and Inadequate U.S. Government Responses to Contractor Malfeasance
This system of TCN recruitment and labor, upon which both the Department of Defense (“DOD”) and the Department of State (“DOS”) rely heavily in their overseas operations, violates the U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (“TVPRA”), Title 18 U.S.C. § 1589 on Forced Labor and § 1590 on Trafficking, as well as the UN Trafficking Protocol, to which the United States is a party.
Last month the ACLU released a joint report with Yale Law School, Victims of Complacency, that documents the ongoing trafficking, forced labor and abuse of foreign workers hired through U.S. government contracts to work in support of U.S. military and diplomatic missions abroad.
The Obama administration has long had a “zero tolerance” policy against human trafficking based on U.S. government contracts, but to date that policy has not been effectively implemented. As documented in “Victims of Complacency” and numerous other government and non-governmental reports, hundreds of men and women have been trafficked on to U.S. military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan where they have been subjected to forced labor and other abusive treatment by U.S. government contractors and sub-contractors. Yet, our government has failed to fully investigate these allegations; nor has it prosecuted or taken administrative action against a single contractor for involvement in such abuses. The End Trafficking in Government Contracting Act of 2012 is an important step towards making “zero tolerance” a reality, and to bringing an end to an unacceptable chain of profits based on trafficking, forced labor and taxpayer dollars.