February 10, 2010
By Azadeh Shahshahani and Tim Franzen
The United States has long participated in programs abroad that
prevent the recruitment of child soldiers.
But the added strain of fulfilling enlistment quotas to carry out
sustained U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan without
reinstituting a draft has contributed to a rise in aggressive
recruitment tactics and misconduct by recruiters here at home.
Such abuse by recruiters includes coercion, deception and false
promises, and nullifies the voluntariness of youths' enlistment,
violating our international human rights obligations.
Under a U.N. protocol adopted by the United States in 2002, 17 is the
absolute minimum age for military recruitment even though the
prevailing international standard is to prohibit the voluntary
recruitment of children under the age of 18 into the military.
Indeed, 89 of the 128 countries that signed the U.N. protocol have a
"straight-18" standard that sets 18 as the minimum age for recruitment.
In May 2008, the American Civil Liberties Union detailed the U.S.
government's failure to comply with its U.N. obligations. The ACLU
found that the U.S. military continues to engage in tactics designed
to recruit students under the age of 17, and fails to protect
17-year-old students from aggressive and abusive recruitment.
The ACLU also found that U.S. military recruitment tactics
disproportionately target low-income youth and students of color.
After examining U.S. recruitment practices last year, a U.N.
committee called on the U.S. to end military training in public
schools and stop targeting racial minorities and children of
low-income families and other vulnerable socio-economic groups for
In Georgia, there are clear indications of violations of the U.N.
protocol. According to the No Child Left Behind Act, high schools
must disclose student records of juniors and seniors, including
students under 17, to military recruiters or risk losing federal aid,
unless parents or students sign and submit a form requesting that the
data be withheld.
Many Georgia schools do not make the exemption forms readily
available to high school students and their parents. This is
confirmed by Iraq war veteran Christopher Raissi, who was working as
a Marine recruiter in Macon in 2005.
In Raissi's words: "Recruiters are trained to work everyone in a high
school, from freshmen to seniors. From my experience, the schools
don't give any notification to the parents about dissemination of
students' personal information to recruiters. If parents ignore their
phone calls, recruiters are trained to track down every kid on the
list, either at school or at home."
Some Georgia high schools also encourage students, including students
under 17, to take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, a
military placement exam that serves as a military recruiting tool.
In fact, students have reported taking the test at 16, because high
schools have administered the exam to the entire 11th grade.
Sixteen-year-olds who have taken the ASVAB have subsequently been
approached by military recruiters in their homes.
We've also seen attempts to open a military school in DeKalb County.
The DeKalb Marine Corps Institute would expose students as young as
14 to military discipline, military culture and military training.
The DMCI would have been funded in part by the Marine Corps out of
its recruitment budget and could have become a pipeline for targeted
minority recruitment into the military.
The school originally was slated to open in August. Due to strong
community opposition, the DeKalb County Board of Education announced
in early June that it had postponed the opening date. While
celebrating the victory, DeKalb parents called on the Board of
Education not to revive this or similar proposals meant to militarize
public school education.
Georgia state Sen. Nan Orrock (D-Atlanta) and state Rep. Stephanie
Stuckey Benfield (D-Atlanta) have introduced a resolution that urges
the Georgia Department of Education and Georgia schools to cease
current and future programs and activities designed to recruit
children under age 17.
The resolution also encourages Georgia to implement basic safeguards
for recruitment of 17-year-olds by requiring that military
recruitment activities be genuinely voluntary and carried out with
the consent of the child's parents or guardians.
To ensure children aren't recruited without their parents' consent,
the resolution encourages Georgia to provide students and parents
with "opt-out" forms that prohibit schools from disclosing students'
records to military recruiters as required by No Child Left Behind.
This resolution will be a first step on the path of ensuring that
abusive military recruitment practices of the kind we have seen in
Georgia will end, and that any recruitment of 17-year-olds is
completely voluntary and carried out with the full consent of the
child's parents. America and Georgia must lead by example.
Azadeh Shahshahani is National Security/Immigrants' Rights project
director at the ACLU of Georgia. Tim Franzen is the Peace Building
program director for the Southeastern Office of the American Friends