On July 5th President Clinton signed two United Nations (U.N.) documents that protect the role of children in armed conflict, sex trafficking and slavery. One document includes the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, which raises the international legal age of children serving as soldiers from 15 to 18 years of age. The harmful use of child soldiers has been the focus of the U.N. and many women’s and human rights organizations ranging from Africa to Afghanistan. According to an U.N. Wire story last December, the U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan denounced the strict Taliban regime use of child warriors younger than 14, citing that it has “sparked a firestorm.” Over the past six years the Pentagon has been a major opponent of the Protocol age restriction on recruitment in lieu of a U.S. policy to recruit under the age of 17 with parental consent. The Pentagon dropped its objections after the presentation of facts showing that a very small proportion of the U.S. military would be affected.
The second signed agreement, the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, criminalizes all forms of sexual exploitation and trafficking of children. An important step for the Clinton Administration, and one which some women’s rights advocates hope will be extended to adults in broader language, thus protecting the rights of all trafficking victims in a pending U.N. Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons.
In 1990, the United States signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child, but in ten years has failed to gain the consent of the Senate for ratification. According to U.S. Constitution, an international agreement/treaty of any kind can become an official binding agreement with the consent of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and 2/3 vote of the Senate. Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC), chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has blocked the ratification of other important human rights treaties including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which the U.S. signed in 1979.