The United States has formally ratified two United Nations agreements, or protocols, aimed at protecting children.
The first agreement deals with the worldwide problem of child soldiers. Over three-hundred thousand children are being used by governments or rebel forces in over thirty armed conflicts in the world today. They serve as soldiers, runners, guards, sex slaves, and spies. Children as young as seven or eight years old are forced to carry guns and ammunition and forcibly engage in war.
The U-N Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict prohibits compulsory recruitment into military service for those under the age of eighteen. In regard to voluntary service, it will require that states set the minimum age for enlistment above the current standard of fifteen years. And states will be required to take all feasible measures to ensure that members of their armed forces under eighteen do not take a direct part in hostilities. States that become party to the protocol are also required to prohibit the use of soldiers under eighteen by non-state forces, such as rebel units.
U.S. ratification of the other agreement, the Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution, and Child Pornography, is a major step forward in the global effort to combat trafficking in children, particularly for forced commercial sexual exploitation. Today, an estimated one-million children are trafficked for labor, including coerced sexual exploitation. On-line stalkers, international pornography rings, and sex tourism are all flourishing. Exploited children are at increased risk of violence, drug abuse, and disease -- including H-I-V/AIDS. These children live in fear, pain, and degradation -- and often don’t survive the abuse.
This U-N protocol spells out the meaning of such terms as “sale of children,” “child prostitution,” and “child pornography.” And it requires governments to protect children up to the age of eighteen by treating the actions of child exploiters as crimes that merit serious punishment.
Child victims of armed conflict and commercial sexual exploitation desperately need the attention of the world. These U-N protocols are a starting point in the effort to punish offenders, dismantle the networks of trafficking, and care for the young victims of these crimes.