Child Soldiers and the U.S. Non-Conformist

by Elsa Lilja Gunnarsdottir

This post is inspired by Robin Kirk’s blogpost “The story behind ‘Straight 18’ on child soldiers;” Duke University’s director of undergraduate studies for the International Comparative Studies major, and coordinator for the Duke Human Right’s Initiative. Her blog is titled “Talking Rights” and can be found at: 

In Western civilization, it is considered a child’s duty to attend school as long as mandatory attendance applies. In other parts of the world, a child’s considered duty is to fight. Although many treaties have been proposed to ban the use of child soldiers, the complete eradication of such a concept has yet to be successful. The treaty that has been adopted the quickest internationally, and the most widely ratified of human rights covenants is the Convention on the Rights of the Child. This abrupt ratification gave optimism and promise to the end of child soldiers, yet only two countries did not ratify; Somalia and the United States.[1] For vague and, in my opinion, unjustified reasons, the United States has failed to make this treaty a matter of national law and in that way enforceable.[2] Failure to comply with such an important treaty, does not only make the subject a bad role model, but also opens up to dangerous actions which in turn are not punishable by law.

The United States, as an acclaimed important international actor, fails to serve its purpose as a global leader with their habit of not submitting to any common, international authority. Somalia is not currently able to proceed to ratification because it has no recognized government, while the United States has signed the convention as a sign of intending to ratify, but ratification has not yet been carried out for unclear reasons. The greatest reason, according to, is the fear that it will interfere with parental rights, although the convention is clear in granting responsibilities and protection to parents and guardians. Apparently, as claimed by, parents are afraid they will lose the rights to spank their children or refuse them to participate in sex education.[3] This is an absurd reason that should only enforce the need to ratify this convention. Not to mention, the convention does in fact protect both the rights of children and the rights of parents – but yes, it may require of you to not hit or abuse your child.[4]

So what are they so afraid of? Isn’t it important enough to protect the rights of a child?

Though it swears to protect the rights of children, the Convention requires only the minimum age of 15 for recruitment to armed forces, despite defining a child as anyone under the age of 18. I question this decision as somewhat contradictory as it does not vow to protect all children – “anyone under the age of 18” – from being recruited as soldiers. Technically, according to what the convention defines as a child, recruiting child soldiers is still legal. For the definition of child to be discredited only in the circumstance of military recruitment, seems to me unethical.

I do not know everything about U.S. protocols on ratifying treaties or why they chose not to submit to international authorities, but I cannot comprehend how they can justify being one of only two countries to not ratify (and perhaps the only one to selectively refuse) a convention validating the rights of children. This convention has been proven successful; it has been signed by 133 countries and the International Criminal Court has considered the use of child soldiers now a prosecutable war crime – in effect the number of child soldiers has been reduced by half.

Why does the U.S. not conform or submit to international agreements, especially concerning the rights of their citizens? What exactly are they afraid of? I rest my case in the hopes of a better justification than the ones you have just read, but until then, this remains inconceivable to me.


One Comment Add yours

  1. beckynorvang says:

    Reblogged this on A different kind of America and commented:
    Interesting perspective posed by ACN student Elsa Gunnarsdottir. Why is it so hard for the US to conform?

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