The United States has added Pakistan and Turkey to its list of countries that recruit child soldiers.
An appearance in the 2021 Child Soldiers Prevention Act (CSPA) list, could lead to strict sanctions on military assistance, and participation in peacekeeping programmes. The designation is included in the US State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, which ranks countries in various tiers in accordance with their efforts on eliminating trafficking Reuters reports.
The TIP Report assesses the anti-trafficking efforts taken by countries around the world, and in some cases, the direct involvement of governments in trafficking persons, including sex trafficking, forced labour, and the use as child soldiers.
Quoting the report, The Newsweek writes that the Government of Pakistan does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, though it is making significant efforts to do so. “These efforts included finalizing implementation rules for the 2018 Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Act, adopting a new five-year national action plan to combat trafficking in persons and migrant smuggling crimes, and referring more potential trafficking victims for care than the previous reporting period,” it said. The report especially praised the Punjab province for reporting more overall convictions for trafficking in the past year compared to the previous reporting period. “In Sindh, local officials continued to perpetrate bonded labour in brick kilns and on farms with impunity,” the report observed.
According to Reuters, Turkey’s inclusion marks the first time a NATO ally has been on the list. The State Department said Turkey was providing “tangible support” to a Syrian opposition militia, the Sultan Murad division, that recruited and used child soldiers, and that Turkey had also used child soldiers in Libya, where Turkish soldiers and proxy forces have supported the Tripoli-based government against the eastern-based Libyan National Army forces commanded by Khalifa Haftar.
According to the agencies, in a briefing with reporters, a senior State Department official Ned Price referred to the use of child soldiers in Libya, saying Washington hoped to work with Ankara on the issue.
“Especially with regard to Turkey … this is the first time a NATO member has been added to the list of the Child Soldiers Prevention Act,” the State Department official said. “As a respected regional leader and a member of NATO, Turkey has had the opportunity to address this issue – the recruitment and use of child soldiers in Syria and Libya,” he said.
In addition to the so-called Islamic State, Turkey has carried out three cross-border operations in Syria against US-backed Kurdish militias in Syria and has frequently used armed Syrian militant factions as its forces.
Meanwhile, Afghans continued to both voluntarily return and be deported from Iran and Pakistan, and traffickers abroad reportedly forced some Afghans into labour prior to their return or deportation.
The 2021 CSPA list includes governments of the following countries: Afghanistan, Burma, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Mali, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria, Turkey, Venezuela and Yemen.
The statement, issued by the State Department in Washington, defines the term “child soldier” as: Any person under 18 years of age who takes a direct part in hostilities as a member of governmental armed forces, police, or other security forces. The term “child soldier” is also applied to a person who is serving in any capacity, including in a support role, such as a “cook, porter, messenger, medic, guard, or sex slave”.
The CSPA prohibits listed governments in the following US programmes: International Military Education and Training, Foreign Military Financing, Excess Defence Articles, and Peacekeeping Operations. Some programmes undertaken pursuant to the Peacekeeping Operations authority, are exempted.
The CSPA also prohibits the issuance of licences for direct commercial sales of military equipment to such governments.