Through programs like the Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps,
military recruitment efforts now target children as young as 8 years old.
by Mor, Tzili
Remember your first field trip? Typically, when a middle school class
plans an excursion to the local art museum, or a high school teacher
wants to offer a special lesson on safe sex, a parent or guardian
must sign a permission slip allowing the child's participation. But
no such adult approval is required for contact between American
children and the 22,000 military recruiters who hang out at public
middle and high schools, in movie theaters and shopping malls,
handing out iPods or other extravagant gifts.
The U.S. Department of Defense spent more than $1.5 billion on
recruitment efforts in 2006 and today offers $20,000 "quick ship"
cash rewards for new recruits. In contrast, the government provides a
maximum of a $4,310 annual tuition grant for the few qualified,
college-bound high school students who avoid enlistment.
WILPFers across the country voiced concerns about the omnipresence of
military recruiters undermining their community's own norms and
subverting the wishes of parents. Recruiters often target immigrant
and low-income communities of color. According to the Department of
Defense's most recent report on the armed forces, women from racial
minority groups are over-represented among the ranks of new recruits.
The U.S. government subsidizes military-style programs, such as
Middle School Cadets and the Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps
(JROTC), where children as young as 8 and 11 can participate. There
is neither federal funding, nor suggested curricula, for peaceful
resolution of conflict and human rights education. Last year, Chicago
opened the first public Marine Military Academy in the country. The
Marine Military Math and Science Academy, serving grades 9 through
12, follows the military disciplinary model. Drills are part of the
The militarization of community life affects not only the prospects
of those young people who actually enlist for military service, but
the educational and employment opportunities available to all youth.
It affects family life, and inevitably changes the norms of civil society.
Recruitment efforts that revolve around false and exaggerated
promises about educational and employment opportunities for soldiers
(and the lack of honest discussion of risks and actual duties of
service) prevent young people from making informed, genuinely
voluntary decisions about their lives based on accurate, truthful information.
Last summer, WILPF's Advancing Human Rights/ CEDAW (AHR) committee
drew together members from various states, in addition to nearly 30
national and grass-roots groups working on "truth in recruitment," to
work on this issue. Together, we compiled a report to the U.N.
Committee on the Rights of the Child about the reality of improper
and abusive U.S. military recruitment tactics.
In 2003, the United States ratified and became legally bound by the
Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict.
On May 22, 2008, the Children's Rights Committee, the U.N. committee
of experts that oversees the implementation of this protocol (or
treaty), will be reviewing U.S. compliance with international
standards on the recruitment and deployment of children (anyone under
the age of 18) into the armed forces and participation in military
conflict. WILPF, along with multiple endorsing organizations,
submitted an alternative report analyzing the shortfalls and gaps in
the official report submitted to the U.N. committee by the U.S. government.
Our alternative report submission resulted in the U.N. committee
inviting WILPF to Geneva in early February to make an oral
presentation and participate in a closed session of questions and
answers with a dozen independent international experts. While the
session was closed to allow for a frank discussion between NGO reps
and committee members, the committee drafted a list of follow up
questions for the U.S. government around issues of recruitment and
deployment of children. Several of these questions were taken from
recommendations and suggested questions outlined in the WILPF report.
For example, the committee required that the U.S. government submit
information by March 31 about criminal penalties for forced or
compulsory recruitment of individuals under 18 years; information on
the methods used by military recruiters (and which safeguards are
available to prevent misconduct, coercive measures or deception); and
the number of cases of recruiter misconduct and sanctions since the
Protocol has been in place. The committee also requested
disaggregated data (by sex and ethnicity) on the number of voluntary
recruits under the age of 18. (For a full list of questions to the
U.S. Government, please see: www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/crc/)
Since these questions by the U.N. expert committee form part of the
treaty review process, the various relevant U.S. government agencies
must collect the information requested, or acknowledge gaps in laws
and enforcement in its reply. Following the official review of the
United States in May, the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child
(CRC) will issue "concluding observations" to the U.S. government for
better compliance with its legal obligations under this international
treaty. (For details on the CRC review of the U.S., please see the
CRC official website at www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/crc/crcs48.htm
. Just scroll down to the second U.S. flag under the CRC OPAC). This
guided dialogue process between the U.S. government and the committee
builds a path of legal standards for the United States--and other
nations--to follow. It also makes connections between abstract human
rights and concrete ways to implement them.
Carol Umer and Ellen Barfield of WILPF's DISARM! Committee, along
with myself (from the AHR committee) took WILPF's alternative report
to Capitol Hill and met with legislative staffers in late February to
both inform them of the U.N. treaty review process and of the
standards and priorities the Protocol sets around the informed,
voluntary consent of children and parents to enlist in the armed forces.
Staffers, in particular those with Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI) and Sen.
Diannie Feinstein (D-CA), were eager to think of ways the
congresswomen could push the agenda for greater transparency,
oversight and accountability over improper and abusive recruitment,
which ranges from false promises to sexual assault, yet lacks central
Department of Defense oversight with prescribed, mandatory penalties.
Sen. Feinstein's office encouraged California-based WILPFers to call
the Senator's local offices and report incidents of improper
recruitment and to strongly voice their distress over the
militarization of their schools. Carol Urner was also able to have
good meetings with legislative assistants of John Conyers and Eddie
Bernice Johnson. Both Representatives are members and sponsors of
WILPF, and both staffers indicated strong interest in the report and
the U.N. questions. Carol also left packets of documents with about
10 other Representatives and Senators whom we thought branches and
the AHR committee might want to contact further.
The alternative report started with local grassroots efforts which
brought community views to the United Nations and, following its
comments to the U.S. government, it will be again up to us to push
the implementation of human rights and non-militarization back on the
local level, this time buttressed by the endorsement of an
international body of experts and international legal obligations
that U.S. government is bound to uphold.
For the full report and the statement made to the UN CRC Committee,
www.wilpf.org/counter_recruitment_strategies . AHR committee members
involved in producing the report: Corinne Tyris (coordinating
intern), Jody Dodd (staff), Gillian Russell Gilhool, Scotty
Michaelsen, Tzili Mor, and Laura Roskos.
Tzili Mor is an Attorney Teaching-Fellow with the International
Women's Human Rights Clinic at Georgetown University Law Center. She
has coordinated, edited and drafted numerous reports and documents to
the United Nations and has worked on international human rights
projects in several regions of the world. She is a member of WILPF's
During the national conference calls to prepare for the. report to
the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child, numerous WILPFers
voiced interest in sharing information and swapping creative ideas
about outreach to stop improper and abusive (or any) recruitment of
youth in their schools and communities. To facilitate that national
exchange, the AHR Committee established a WILPF Counter Recruitment
group at Yahoo! Groups. Go to the groups section of Yahoo! and search
Some of these resources, already shared through the WILPF Counter
Recruitment listserv, include an anti-recruitment comic book and a
resource guide for potential enlistees authored by Veterans for
Peace. Mixed Signals, a counter-recruitment tool in comic book form,
is now available for use in activism, outreach, counseling,
education, starting conversations and saving lives. To view and print
the comic book, go to
http://antiau-thoritarian.net/NLN/current/sabrina.html. To order
copies, contact email@example.com.
Veterans For Peace published A Resource Guide for Young People
Considering Enlistment, which contains advice from veterans on
military service and recruiting practices. The guide is available at: