NEW YORK — Two new studies into the problem of child soldiers turn their ire on the United States, charging that the Pentagon is so hungry for enlistments that it is allowing officials to violate U.S. and international laws prohibiting the recruitment of minors for military service.
The surveys say recruiters are putting undue pressure on underage boys and girls, sometimes misrepresenting the terms of military service, inflating compensation, or falsifying applicants’ health or criminal records to avoid their rejection.
In addition, Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union say in separate reports that the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind Act gives unprecedented access to the records of high school juniors and seniors, allowing recruiters to contact them directly without parental consent.
“Public schools serve as prime recruiting grounds for the military, and the U.S. military’s generally accepted procedures for recruitment of high school students plainly violate” internationally negotiated norms, according to the ACLU’s “Soldiers of Misfortune” report released last week.
U.S. law permits recruiting at 17 and front-line deployment at 18. A key international treaty sets the same standards.
“It is important for recruiters to be able to inform today’s youth, either on or off campus, of the many benefits of serving in today’s military,” he wrote. “While the military may not be for everyone, it does provide many of our youth a great opportunity to further their education, gain a marketable skill, become independent, and serve their country.”
Col. Withington argued that the use of data provided under the federal education law was appropriate.
“The law only requires schools to provide the name, address, and telephone numbers of their junior and senior students. By law, local school administrators are required to notify the parents of their right to have their son’s or daughter’s information withheld,” he wrote. He noted that parents or students may opt out.
The United States is one of 63 nations that permit the recruiting of minors into the national armed forces, although only a few allow soldiers 17 and younger to deploy to combat situations, according to the Human Rights Watch report on the global use of child soldiers released yesterday.
Three thousand middle schools offer Junior ROTC clubs, which the ACLU says reach out to children as young as 14.
“The added strain of fulfilling enlistment quotas necessary to carry out sustained U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan without reinstituting a draft has contributed to a rise in aggressive recruitment efforts and allegations of misconduct and abuse by recruiters,” the ACLU found.
The Pentagon and individual services have grappled with irregularities by their recruiters: An August 2006 report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the increased pressure on front-line recruiters had yielded significant violations of their rule books, and that many of those interviewed said the Iraq war had made their jobs more difficult.
The GAO found that substantiated “recruiter irregularities” increased from just over 400 to 630 incidents between 2004 and 2005, and that criminal violations more than doubled, to 70 incidents, in that time. Irregularities spike at the end of the month, when targets are not met.
The office did not specify how many incidents were related to underage recruiting.View Entire Story
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