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Protect Children: Stop Supporting Militia and Governments that Use Child Soldiers

This petition had 19 supporters

Children are recruited and trained as killers in 8 government militias around the world, according to the 2015 US Trafficking in Persons Report.

According to Human Rights Watch, "President Barack Obama now has about two months to decide whether to let congressionally imposed military sanctions go into effect against the five named governments that are slated for US military assistance next year. His decision in the past to withhold key military assistance from Congo almost certainly contributed to the notable progress by that country. But in too many other cases, he has invoked “national interests” to waive the law and allow governments using child soldiers to continue receiving US military aid."

SOLD: The Human Trafficking Experience presents dramatized accounts of the lives of child soldiers in South Sudan and Yemen as well as seven other victims of human trafficking. You can listen to the 45-minute program here. As part of the Experience, participants are encouraged to take immediate action against human trafficking. The first action is to speak up for those without a voice: Sign a petition to President Obama requesting his decision to let military sanctions go into effect against the five governments that recruit and use child soldiers that are slated for US military assistance next year and to take positive steps to protect children and youth in Yemen.

The Obama Administration has taken many positive steps in the past to protect children from becoming soldiers. Yet, in the case of Yemen, national interest in fighting al Qaeda has trumped concern over human rights abuses, including the use of child soldiers. The Obama Administration has supported and partnered with the former corrupt Yemeni government and has continued support to military factions that commit ongoing human rights abuses in the new government. 

There does not need to be a tension between protecting American citizens from al Qaeda and protecting children from becoming soldiers. Military support, training, and action in Yemen has produced little results while at the same time increasing anti-American sentiment. A better solution would be to increase development aid to programs that provide youth with better opportunities and to government reforms that are headed in the right direction but are likely to fail without funding.

This petition to President Obama requests that he:

1.      Impose military sanctions on the five named governments that recruit and use child soldiers and stop funding to Yemeni military units that continue human rights abuses or have not been brought to account for past abuses;

2.     Fully vet every military unit before providing support;

3.     Increase support to government reforms; and

4.     Support NGO programs that engage and build up youth.

Full Petition Letter:

Dear President Obama,

We appreciate your concern for the well-being and safety of children around the world. You have shown your leadership on this issue in signing into law the Lord's Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act of 2009, and in authorizing and continuing the deployment of a small number of U.S. military advisors to assist Uganda and other regional forces pursuing the LRA and seeking to protect local populations.

You have also stated your vision for a future where no child is turned into a soldier, and upheld the Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008 by refusing military funding to nations like Sri Lanka, where children are used as soldiers by paramilitary groups.[i] Even countries like Chad[ii] and South Sudan[iii] have now produced plans and begun to take steps to demobilize and reintegrate the child soldiers in their military ranks. We know that you agree that there should not be any child soldiers, anywhere. 

Yet there are a couple glaring contradictions in the United States’ stance on child soldiers and your Administration’s protection of these children. One of these is Yemen. We applaud the substantial increase in recent years to economic and development assistance to Yemen, especially for areas populated by extremists. We are also grateful that military assistance to Yemen was suspended last year during the Jasmine Revolution. We also understand that you have a great responsibility to protect the citizens of the United States of America, and that there are times when the protection of children around the world seems to be at odds with this responsibility. The instability, the lack of rule of law, and the extremist sympathies combine to make Yemen a welcoming place for radical jihadists, including al Qaeda.

Yet in your concern to ward off threats like al Qaeda, your Administration has been forced to partner with and support a corrupt[iv] and duplicitous[v] government. Our military support has made us complicit with the Yemeni government in human rights violations that include attacking civilian villages[vi] and peaceful protesters,[vii] wrongful imprisonment,[viii] and the use of child soldiers.[ix]

The recruitment and use of children under the age of 15 in armed conflict is an international war crime.[x] According to the United Nations Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict, “child soldiers are victims … regardless of how they are recruited. … The participation [of children] in conflict bears serious implications for their physical and emotional well-being.”[xi] The use of child soldiers is included in the definition of human trafficking because they are legally too young to make the decision to participate in armed conflict.

When presented with opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise have - whether by government military, militias, or terrorists - children are easily swayed[xii] to participate in something that will have lifelong consequences both physically and psychologically.

We believe that this tension between protecting American citizens and protecting the children of Yemen is a false dichotomy. American military operations in Yemen have been not been effective: they have neither increased stability nor cut down on terrorism and they may in fact be helping terrorist recruiters. On the other hand, funding development programs and new government reforms that encourage stability, human rights, and democracy is a solution that protects both American citizens and Yemeni children. 

For all the money and training they receive, Yemen’s counter-terrorism units are accomplishing very little.[xiii] Many units are just as dangerous and abusive as the terrorist groups they are intended to battle. Also, some Yemenis see American military interference in Yemen as a breach of sovereignty. This contributes to the anti-American sentiment that is prevalent.[xiv] Finally, the fear of American airstrikes provides an opportunity for terrorist groups to recruit more widely. If Yemenis believe they will die in American airstrikes, some can be convinced that they might as well die as martyrs instead of victims.[xv]

Is putting American guns into the hands of Yemeni soldiers – children or adults – really the best way to ward off American-hating terrorists? We believe American money would be better spent funding programs and government reforms that promote stability and peace, rather than supporting a military that is known for human rights violations.

For example, Mercy Corps has a successful program called “Engaging Youth for Stable Yemen.”[xvi] This conflict mitigation program brings youth together and builds their capacity to create positive change by teaching them life skills, job skills, and helping them participate in community service. It engages young people in constructive community activities and reduces their vulnerability to the negative influence of violent groups.

Another example, the new Legal Affairs Minister Ahmed al-Mikhlafi is a former human rights activist who recognizes that this is an opportunity to lay a legal foundation that will protect rights for generations to come. Yet his office is poorly staffed and funds are low. The new human rights minister, Huriyeh Mashour has boldly challenged security force abuses, but regrets the lack of skills, training, and funding for her underpaid staff.[xvii]

The best way to keep al Qaeda and other terrorists on the run is to help Yemen become stable – not promote war.

This is a critical moment in history for the future of Yemen. With the government in transition, now is the time to show that the US is serious about supporting democracy and rule of law in Yemen. With plans to spend $75 million this year in military training and donations of equipment to Yemen to fight al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and affiliated armed Islamist groups, it is vital that your Administration ensures that military aid is not provided to individual units of the security services that have been implicated in serious abuses and where there have been no clear steps to ensure accountability for these abuses. Direct military aid to these forces could undermine the new Yemeni government’s ability to ensure accountability and bring peace and security to the country.[xviii]

We ask that your Administration, along with partners in the European Union and the Gulf states, help Yemen's new government build rights-respecting security institutions and establish the rule of law. Without these elements, al Qaeda is likely to flourish and rival security factions won't accept civilian rule.[xix] We ask that you begin with Leahy Law-style vetting of all security units being considered for funding. Also, that you ensure that those units are accountable to Yemen’s civilian government, and that the government conducts serious investigations into their abuses.

We ask you to be consistent in your concern for children around the world by upholding the Child Soldier Prevention Act of 2008. Integrity in this issue will protect both American citizens and Yemeni children. Stop military aid to Yemeni security units that do not agree to a plan to demobilize and reintegrate child soldiers. Instead, invest in the future of Yemen by investing in their children and in democracy and human rights in their new government.


Mirror Ministries


SOLD: The Human Trafficking Experience, a project of Mirror Ministries, is a multi-sensory exhibit designed to educate attendees on the shocking reality of human trafficking around the world. Human trafficking includes, among other abuses, forced and minor commercial sex, forced labor, and child soldiers. See for more information.

Red Hand Day is a global initiative to stop the use of child soldiers. See for more information.

[i] According to Daya Gamage in “US military aid to four nations using child soldiers: Obama Waives Aid Curbs.” Published in the Asian Tribune, Oct 2, 2011. Accessed Apr 28, 2011.

[ii] According to the UN Special Representative to the Office on Children and Armed Conflict, “The Government of Chad expressed its intention to prepare and implement an action plan to address the recruitment and use of children by the Armée nationale tchadienne in a meeting between my Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict and the Minister of Social Action, National Solidarity and Family in October 2010. A draft action plan has been prepared and is currently being discussed with the Government.” Accessed Apr 28, 2012.

[iii] According to the UN Special Representative to the Office on Children and Armed Conflict in the press release, “South Sudan commits to making the national army child-free.” Posted Mar 12, 2012. Accessed Apr 28, 2012.

[iv] According to David Wilkins in “Letter from Yemen: After the Uprising,” published in The New Yorker, “In addition to the bribes—one of Yemen’s largest expenditures—there is corruption. The government in Sanaa makes even the Karzai regime, in Afghanistan, seem like a model of propriety. Mohamed Ali Jubran, an economist at Sanaa University, told me, ‘Any resources that the government is able to get its hands on are siphoned off by the people around the President. What is left over is not enough to meet the demands of the Yemeni people.’” Posted Apr 11, 2011. Accessed Apr 22, 2012.

Though this describes the Saleh administration, which ended after the Jasmine Revolution demanded his abdication, Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North African director at Human Rights Watch reports, “While Yemen’s new government has taken several promising steps, the repressive security apparatus of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh remains largely intact. Civilian leaders reiterated that they cannot move forward on accountability and reform of the security services so long as Saleh continues to play a hand in directing various security forces there.” Posted Apr 6, 2012. Accessed Apr 28, 2012.

[v] On the duplicitous nature of the Saleh administration, Tawwakol Karman, the leader of the Jasmine Revolution, is quoted in Wilkerson’s article as saying, “Saleh keeps Al Qaeda alive because it gets the attention of the Americans. He meets with Al Qaeda. He helps them.” On the change in administration in Yemen, see note above. Posted Apr 11, 2011. Accessed Apr 22, 2012.

[vi] According to David Wilkins in The New Yorker article, “Letter from Yemen: After the Uprising,” American attacks on a suspected Al Qaeda camp on Dec 27, 2009 turned out to be the destruction of the village of Al Majalah

[vii]Attacks on peaceful protesters documented by Human Rights Watch at Posted Mar 18, 2011. Accessed Apr 28, 2012.

[viii] According to David Wilkins in The New Yorker article, “Letter from Yemen: After the Uprising,” Abdulelah Hider Shaea, a journalist for the state-run news service, Saba, who questioned the attacks, was falsely accused, convicted, and imprisoned. President Saleh planned to pardon Shaea after protesters called for his release, but changed his mind after a call from President Obama. Wilkerson concluded, “The Shaea case may be the most disturbing example of the shorthand that exists between the Obama Administration and the Saleh regime.” Posted Apr 11, 2011. Accessed Apr 28, 2012.

[ix] Human Rights Watch has documented the use of child soldiers under the age of 15 in several reports, including their 58-page report “All Quiet on the Northern Front?” and and

[x] According to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which sets the age of fifteen as the minimum age for recruitment or participation in armed conflict. The Convention is the most widely ratified convention in the world, with 192 states parties. Accessed Apr 18, 2012.

[xi]Quoted from “Recruiting or Using Child Soldiers” posted at Accessed Apr 18, 2012.


[xiii] Meanwhile, Saleh’s own counterterrorism units, for all the money and training they receive, are accomplishing very little, the Western official told me: “The problem is, they are really bad. It’s basically one group of thugs versus another group of thugs.” The senior Administration official said of the Yemeni forces, “They are not doing as much as they should,” but emphasized that the effort was still new. “This takes time,” he said. “It takes training and prodding and encouragement.”

[xiv] According to Shatha Al-Harazi and Anas Rawi in the Yemen Times article “American Drone Strikes Provoke Yemenis Against Interim Government,” published Feb 2, 2012. Accessed Apr 28, 2012.
[xv] According to Saeed Al-Jumhi, a research specialist in terrorism and militant groups, “The military attacks against these groups will help in eliminating two or three or even ten terrorists but on the other hand will provide the militant groups with acceptable excuses for being in the area. This will make people stand on their sides and picture the situation as an American invasion of Yemen. They could easily convince people to fight with them, especially as the American drone strike frequently hit civilian locations such as mosques.” Quoted in the Yemen Times article “American Drone Strikes Provoke Yemenis Against Interim Government,” published Feb 2, 2012. Accessed Apr 28, 2012.


[xvii] According to Sarah Leah, Middle East and North Africa Director at Human Rights Watch, in her article, “How to Help Yemen Come Unstuck.” Posted Apr 20, 2012. Accessed Apr 28, 2012.

[xviii] In the Human Rights Watch report, “Yemen: Transition Needs Accountability, Security Reform,” Sarah Leah Whitson is quoted as saying, “The US government has no business resuming aid, overt or covert, to security forces that are implicated in murdering Yemen’s citizens and refuse to accept accountability for these abuses. Direct military aid to these forces could undermine the government’s ability to ensure accountability and bring peace and security to the country.” Posted Apr 6, 2012. Accessed Apr 28, 2012.

[xix] According to Sarah Leah Whitson in her article, “How to Help Yemen Come Unstuck.” The thoughts in this paragraph come from the same article. Posted Apr 20, 2012. Accessed Apr 28, 2012.

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