U.S. waives sanctions to countries using child soldiers

By February 7, 2013

USA (MNN) — Four days ago, U.S. President Barack Obama quietly nullified the Child Soldiers Protection Act (CSPA) of 2008.

Lorella Rouster with Every Child Ministries (ECM) explains, "On Sunday afternoon, the president issued a memo saying that he has determined that it's not in the national interest of the U.S. to proceed with this [Act], and therefore he has waived the application of this law with respect to certain nations like Libya, South Sudan, Yemen, and partially, in the case of Congo."

The memorandum reads:

Pursuant to section 404 of the Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008 (CSPA) (title IV, Public Law 110-457), I hereby determine that it is in the national interest of the United States to waive the application of the prohibition in section 404(a) of the CSPA with respect to Libya, South Sudan, and Yemen; and further determine that it is in the national interest of the United States to waive in part the application of the prohibition in section 404(a) of the CSPA with respect to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to allow for continued provision of International Military Education and Training funds and nonlethal Excess Defense Articles, and the issuance of licenses for direct commercial sales of U.S. origin defense articles; and I hereby waive such provisions accordingly.

The CSPA was a Bush-era law aimed as a deterrent at U.S. arms sales to countries determined by the State Department to be the worst abusers of child soldiers in their military. Rouster says it went through Congress unanimously–a rare effort. The teeth: "That law made it a federal crime to recruit or to use soldiers under the age of 15. It gave the U.S. the authority to prosecute, deport, and deny entry to anybody who recruited child soldiers, and it also forbade us to export arms and military items to countries that allowed use of child soldiers."

However, the Obama administration waived sanctions–and not for the first time, adds Rouster. "He also granted a waiver from this law to certain nations, starting in 2010. At that time, he said it was a one-time deal, but it was not. He renewed it in 2011, and now again on Sunday, he has renewed this."

A United Nations committee urged the U.S. president to take a tougher stance. They're not alone. "This action…I'm utterly dismayed by it," exclaims Rouster, noting that it sends a lot of mixed messages. "We just see it as prolonging the war in Congo. We see it as sending the wrong kind of message to people around the world so that the practice of recruiting children to serve as soldiers is only going to increase as a result of this."

The irony is that a week earlier, touting his administration's stance on the issue, President Obama issued an executive order to fight human trafficking. Confused yet? Rouster says, "We just feel that these presidential memos will have the effect of subjecting more children to those wars, and also it'll send the message to the world that ‘trafficking children into the military is okay with us', or at least, ‘we're looking the other way'."

However, the issue of Child Soldiery has devastating consequences on a society. ECM has learned this firsthand over the years as they've built ministry to rehabilitate some of the child soldiers they've encountered in the Democratic Republic of Congo and in Northern Uganda (Lord's Resistance Army led by Joseph Kony). Rouster says, "It'll take generations to recover from the horrors, which is the case with the children that we work with in northern Uganda."

For the last seven years, Rouster explains, "ECM's role has been a long-term commitment to help one of the devastated communities there to rebuild. And that has included everything from building huts and latrines, to digging wells, to the most important job of rebuilding lives through the power of Jesus." ECM has committed to working there on behalf of these children who have been robbed of a future. It's tough and challenging work, but, she says, Christ restores that future. "He's the only hope for any child who is caught in these conditions, and I think that prayer for our nation is our only hope."

In the meantime, you can pray, she says. Rouster also has a message for President Obama: "Think again about this. If he can undo, in a presidential memo, an act that was passed unanimously in Congress, what's to stop him from thinking again about it and undoing his own memo?"

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