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NCLB Outrages

Testimony on The Child Soldiers Accountability Act of 2007

by Peggy Daly-Masternak

To: Tom Malinowski or Whom It May Concern at Human Rights Watch

This week, a friend sent me a link to recent testimony you gave to the US House Judiciary Subcommittee regarding the subject bill. I feel compelled to comment.

First, let me say, I have the highest admiration for the work of human rights organizations in general. I do not have a comprehensive familiarity with your organization, although I have seen references to the work of Human Rights Watch with some frequency. Thank you for any and all efforts to advance the causes for human rights everywhere and for exposing world-wide egregious violations.

I have a particular interest in the rights of children. Other than a relatively small minority of adults in this country who have lost their legal rights to self-determination through court-allowed guardianship, it is only children who have no voice in their own self-determination across every aspect of their lives. Whatever its purported justification, one only needs to absorb the phrase "compulsory attendance" (let alone the quickening acceptance of the now-morphed "compulsory education") as one demonstration of the inequality of the human rights for minor children.

In fact, the irony of those last facts, juxtaposed against your testimony is not lost, and, truly, one need not travel outside the United States to realize that irony. The federal, state and local agencies in education and militarism in this country allow...no, force...the recruitment of our minor youth into the military. Your testimony provides a clear and righteous assessment of these activities in other nations, some with specifically named individuals, yet fails to analyze the child recruitment happening every hour of every day in our own schools, youth centers, entertainment venues and mailboxes across the country.

In reading your discussion of child recruitment violations in other countries, I actively searched your testimony for any distinction between RECRUITMENT and ENLISTMENT...there is none. You cite a form of the word "recruit" 32 times, while referencing any form of the word "enlist" only twice. That is a crucial distinction relative to my point. Our moral indignation of the recruitment of a 14-year-old in some "backward" African nation is ill-placed and highly hypocritical when we examine the daily recruitment of youth in American schools, especially the urban and rural schools predominately attended by working class and youth of color. Whether the "enlistment" happens this year or a few years out, the groundwork is being laid to militarize every US child with the exact same marketing tactics (quota-bound recruiters convincingly selling a product) and the exact same outcomes (enlistment into war) as in any country you site.

From your testimony:

While many children are recruited by force, others join armed groups out of desperation. As communities break down during war, children are often separated from their families, driven from their homes, and left with no opportunity to go to school. In situations of extreme insecurity, many believe that joining an armed group is their best chance of protection or survival.

Perhaps in the time of my childhood, despite a time of conscription, it may have been unthinkable to some to "dramatize" the above statement with any relationship to the children of the United States. Not today, Family economic hardships up to and including foreclosures notwithstanding, some might attempt to argue that we are not quite to a literal point where our children are "driven from their homes." Even though another might concede that point, surely every other phrase of your cited testimony could as easily apply to the US as it can to Burma, Burundi. Rwanda or Somalia.

Children recruited by force: Child recruiting is happening by force in any US secondary school (and college) that receives federal funding, which is virtually all. Specific to high schools, compulsory attendance is, in fact, a forced exposure to military recruitment, almost universally absent parental knowledge, permission or input. I ask: Is this not the initial and same "separation from their families" for militarism that you reference?

Communities break down during war: Yes, countless communities are breaking down in the US, despite no recognized civil war, although on-going, life-long domestic social inequities must certainly feel like war to many. Preemptive, illegal strikes upon other countries by we, the super-powerful, wasting our best and brightest youth, along with the inherited treasure all are now denied for their future, are wars which are no less devastating in the breaking down of our communities here at home.

Left with no opportunity to go to school: For many of us in education activism, we would stand in our opposition to the culminating No Child Left Behind Act as a systematic, long-time-built initiative, to create the "situations of extreme insecurity," to push children from school, fully intending that some be forced to the same desperation as children worldwide. In fact, those children are now left with that same lack of opportunity for school (elementary, secondary and college) to the point where the military is their seeming only option; that is, their "best chance of protection or survival."

Further from your testimony:

One of the reasons why child recruitment has persisted as an awful aspect of contemporary warfare is the impunity enjoyed by individual recruiters. While many governments and even non-state armed groups have policies on paper stating that their minimum age of recruitment is 18, recruiters who violate these policies are rarely held accountable. As a consequence, recruiters continue to prey upon children, as these are often the most vulnerable recruits, and the most susceptible to threats and coercion.

Surely, sir, you are writing of the US in this passage? First, if our own government has a "policy on paper stating that their minimum age of recruitment is 18," I would very much like to know where that paper exists. Instead, what I see are policies at every level that say it is open season on youth by military recruiters in virtually every secondary school in this country. There are typically children in those secondary schools as young as 13. Many reports take military recruitment now into the earliest of classrooms besides.

And the enjoyment of impunity by recruiters?? I am attaching for you a compilation of military recruiter abuses taken from the headlines of US newspapers in everyday America. (Other time commitments have prevented a written update to the compilation since the beginning of the year...trust me, there are fresher headlines to cull.)

Tell any truth-in-recruiting activist in this country: "Recruiters continue to prey upon children, as these are often the most vulnerable recruits, and the most susceptible to threats and coercion." I assure you, there will be nods all around. They live it every day, coast-to-coast.

And, I work to contain my cynicism on your point in support of the bill under discussion:

Precedent for this type of legislation already exists in federal law. For example, Chapter 113c of Title 18, the Crimes and Criminal Procedure of the US Code makes it a crime for torture to be committed abroad irrespective of the nationality of the victim or alleged offender where the alleged offender is present in the US. The provision imposes severe criminal penalties on 'whoever outside the United States commits or attempts to commit torture.''

Certainly you are aware: there have been a miniscule number of low-level prosecutions of those US'ers at Abu Ghraib and, to my knowledge, none at Guantanamo or in other US facilities practicing torture. I genuinely fail to understand why you would broach this "law" as a representation of equal treatment for all nations. It is unconscionable that the real US perpetrators of a culture of torture, despite the flunkies they got to inflict it, seem shielded, immune and escaping the very "severe criminal penalties" you claim are imposable on anyone...anyone BUT our very own "leaders." Yet, in a continued US'er audacity, some ask "Why do they hate us so much?"

To the question and bill at hand: Absolutely, protect ALL children, here and abroad. Absolutely, punish ALL of those, here and abroad, advancing child recruitment policies. In front of a US Judiciary Committee, in fact, you have the most chance at success to at least have the laws created that affect the concerns of those from immediately across the committee's threshold to our boarders, certainly before we dare point out the violations a half-world away.

Thank you for taking time to read and consider my viewpoint. Given an opportunity, I hope that you will go further to demand that militarism of children in any country, including by and for the United States, should be banned and severely punished.

cc: Members of the House Judiciary Committee
Representative Marcy Kaptur

— Peggy Daly-Masternak


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