ACTION ALERT: Newsweek Exposes Use of Child Soldiers Abroad, But Turns Blind Eye to U.S.

Newsweek’s May 13 issue features a story about the use of child soldiers and “how the international community can roll back the growing exploitation of children in war,” but does not mention the United States’ own recruitment of child soldiers, nor the U.S.’s obstruction of international efforts to curb the practice.

May 8, 2002

Newsweek’s May 13 issue features a story about the use of child soldiers and “how the international community can roll back the growing exploitation of children in war,” but does not mention the United States’ own recruitment of child soldiers, nor the U.S.’s obstruction of international efforts to curb the practice.

The centerpiece of the article, “Voices of the Children: ‘We beat and killed people…’,” is a series of heart-wrenching interviews with four child veterans from Sierra Leone. Newsweek presents the boys’ stories as part of its coverage of the United Nations’ Special Session on Children, a conference where the U.N. will address “how to muster the will to enforce longstanding international conventions and three new resolutions on children and armed conflict.” Graphic and passionately written, the article seems meant to raise awareness about how kids “have become the cannon fodder of choice,” and describes the experiences of child soldiers of Sierra Leone as a lesson in “the unthinkable inhumanity of those who coerced them into combat.”

The moral outrage that Newsweek brings to the story of child soldiers makes its omission of the U.S. role all the more bizarre.

The U.S. is one of only two countries in the world– the other being Somalia– not to have ratified the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the primary legal instrument available to stop the use of child soldiers. Along with the Geneva Conventions, the CRC makes it illegal for militaries to enlist people under the age of 15. Newsweek doesn’t mention the CRC by name, but it is certainly among the measures the magazine is referring to when it says the U.N. must “muster the will to enforce” existing laws.

Even though it has not ratified the CRC, the U.S. has worked to water down an Optional Protocol to the Convention which raises the minimum age for combat service to 18. Originally, the Protocol sought to raise the age for “voluntary recruitment” to 18 as well, a move endorsed by human and children’s rights groups as crucial for building a real global ban on child combat. But the U.S. recruits soldiers at 17. After six years of heavy pressure from the U.S. and U.K. (which also recruits minors), the Protocol was negotiated to allow militaries recruit children as young as 16 (London Times, 2/13/02).

None of this information is included in the Newsweek article. A table and map accompanying the article show “where the young soldiers are,” listing 36 countries that are currently using people under the age of 18 as soldiers in combat. By not including countries that recruit minors, but are not currently using them in combat, Newsweek created a graphic that excluded the U.S. and the U.K., countries which also in fact have “young soldiers.”

The U.S.’s attempts to weaken the CRC have become a key issue for rights groups (Human Rights Watch press release, 5/7/02), yet the only time the Newsweek article mentions the U.S. is to note that the chief prosecutor for the Sierra Leone War Crimes Tribunal is American.

The magazine’s silence on the U.S. role becomes most deafening, however, as the article wraps up by recommending that “the West” make aid to the developing world conditional on compliance with child rights conventions.

“Finally,” writes Newsweek, “the victimized societies need to look inward, to ask themselves hard questions about what they have done to encourage the treatment of people as commodities. A nation like Sierra Leone will cheat itself if it expects foreigners alone to deliver a cure.” It’s too bad Newsweek’s coverage won’t prompt American readers to ask those hard questions about their own government’s role in the exploitation of child soldiers.

ACTION: Please encourage Newsweek to return to the important issue of child soldiers, but next time with an article that tells the whole story, including the U.S. government’s role in the controversy.

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Read the full Newsweek article: http://www.msnbc.com/news/746985.asp?cp1=1

Author: FAIR

News Service: Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting

URL: http://www.fair.org