On June 30, 2016, the United States Department of State published the Child Soldiers Prevention Act List, included in the annual Trafficking in Persons Report, identifying foreign governments whose armed forces or government-supported armed groups are complicit in the recruitment and use of children. The 2008 Child Soldiers Prevention Act (CSPA) prohibits the US Government from providing certain types of military assistance to those foreign governments included on this list, unless issued a waiver, for the following year. The 2016 list includes 10 countries: Burma (Myanmar), Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Nigeria, Rwanda, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

Notably, Nigeria was included in the list for the second year in a row for its support of the Civilian Joint Task Force, which Watchlist documented as having recruited and used children in its 2014 Field Monitor report “’Who Will Care for Us?’ Grave Violations against Children in Northeastern Nigeria”. Watchlist further welcomes the relisting of Rwanda, following its removal in 2015, based on a leaked UN report documenting that at least six children from Burundi were recruited at a refugee camp in eastern Rwanda and received two months of military training by instructors, including Rwandan military personnel. The listing of Iraq for the first time due to its support of the Popular Mobilization Forces, a paramilitary force under the prime minister’s command that is responsible for recruiting and using children in combat against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), is also a welcomed addition to the list. Watchlist expresses disappointment at the omission of Afghanistan, a State Department decision based on supposed ambiguity of the law’s application to the Afghan Local Police. There is well-known documentation of recruitment and use by the Afghan National Police/ Afghan Local Police, which have signed an action plan with the UN to end such practice but has yet to fully implement it.

When used effectively and as intended, the CSPA can be a powerful tool to end and prevent the recruitment and use of children. For example in 2012, five days after the US announced it was withholding military training and financing from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Congolese Government signed an action plan with the UN, something the UN had been trying to accomplish for seven years. Since then, the Congolese armed forces have made substantial progress in reducing child recruitment. However, the US Government annually issues waivers to several listed countries based on national security concerns and provides military assistance. Partial application and enforcement of the CSPA undermines the potential of this tool to hold parties accountable for the recruitment and use of children.

While imperfectly applied, the CSPA remains one of the strongest pieces of national legislation around the world used to encourage governments to end and prevent recruitment and use of children and is a model that other countries friendly to the Children and Armed Conflict agenda should take forward within their own legislation.