Human rights relate to regarding people as those who hold entitlements that would protect their life, liberty and property through a series of reassuring institutional constructs. Indeed, without due regard to human rights, disorder is expected to prevail not only domestically, but also internationally. With that, the United Nations (UN) stands as the main organization that provides a covenant for all nations to recognize human rights standardized under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). To ensure that the rights of every person in the world with regard to their life, liberty and property stands as the prime mandate of the UDHR. However, there is an understanding that not all people in the world, much more nations, comply with the provisions of the UDHR. As a binding international agreement, the UDHR seeks to address human rights violations that threaten the lives of people around the world, specifically those who are deemed the most vulnerable (Donnelly 24-39).
Children, given their underdeveloped biological features and dependence on adults, are very vulnerable to human rights violations, specifically those that result to their exploitation in many different ways. Child recruitment in militias, whether state-established or not, are among the most rampant violations against the rights of children mainly because it affords them with thorough exposure to violence that poses threats to their security and health (UN). This study thus explores the problem of child recruitment in militias within the context of the UDHR, specifically Article 1. Through a comparative analysis of the implementation of the UDHR in two nations – the United States (US) and Colombia, this study provides emphasis on the importance of preventing the formation of, and dissolving efforts of militias on child recruitment, as it constitutes a human rights violation.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights on Child Recruitment
Article 1 of the UDHR, block-quoted in the following, states in great detail the emphasis of the UN on the importance of human dignity as the center of human rights (UN):
Article 1: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Indeed, Mann (30) himself has stated that “the syntax which places dignity before rights merits consideration. Dignity, according to Mann (30), comes from two components: internal (image of oneself) and external (image of other people to a person). In that case, human dignity stresses that it is important for every person to see himself positively, in as much as he endeavors to see others positively and have others see him positively as well (Mann 30).
Being “of vital individual and societal importance,” dignity is therefore a concept strongly promoted by the UDHR in upholding human rights, especially due to the fact that “individuals and societies spend considerable energy in the daily effort to protect, enhance and sustain their dignity” (Mann 30). Although the UN is criticized for universalizing the allegedly Western nature of the UDHR, it maintains that human dignity is rooted on human nature – another heavily-contested concept, by the way, which it states is without any cultural variants (Donnelly 24-39). Basically, a universal concept of human rights highlighting human dignity refers to maintaining peace and order to quell efforts that inflict fear and repression on people for whatever reason or idea (Donnelly 24-39).
The issue on child recruitment for militias, therefore, is an “affront to humanity” (UN), in that it exploits the vulnerability of children in terms of their lack of developed biological features and need to depend on adults (UN). Children that “are from impoverished and marginalized backgrounds or separated from their families” tend to be the most vulnerable to child recruiting for militias (UN). Kidnapping, blackmailing, failure of action on the part of the state lack of economic opportunities all help in empowering militias in their child recruitment activities. Apart from the binding effect of Article 1 of the UDHR, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) also stands as one that seeks to prevent child recruitment in militias worldwide, particularly in terms of introducing standardized provisions on minimum age for recruitment in any armed forces activities as well as empowering government agencies and nongovernment organizations (NGOs) against child recruitment for militias at the local level (UN).
Application to the United States (US)
The US expressly condemns child recruitment in militias through the Child Soldier Prevention Act of 2008 (State.gov). Nationally and internationally, the US completely prohibits any state or non-state actor to do the following: “conscription, forced recruitment, or use of children by governments, paramilitaries, or other organizations,” as said in Section 403 (State.gov). Alongside the succeeding Sections, it is clear in the Child Soldier Prevention Act of 2008 that the US does not just advocate against child recruitment in militias within its national borders, but also in other nations as well, considering its crucial position in the international community (State.gov; Rogin). However, it is clear that the US has yet to prove its consistency at the international level when it comes to condemning child recruitment in militias. Whereas there is no further question about the fact that the US is totally against child recruitment in militias, much more anything that violates human rights under the UDHR, it has come under fire for exempting four nations under the Child Soldier Prevention Act of 2008: Chad, Congo (Democratic Republic), Sudan and Yemen, on the grounds that their armed forces need to be given time for improvement first (Rogin). Such, therefore, appears as an act of undermining the integrity of the Child Soldier Prevention Act of 2008 on the part of no less than the US itself. While it is understandable that the issues of the armed forces of Chad, Congo (Democratic Republic), Sudan and Yemen require their exemption from the Child Soldier Prevention Act of 2008, such a dilemma should be resolved in a manner that would not cost the integrity of the US over the sensitive issue of human rights.
The Case of the FARC in Colombia
The Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) is a terrorist organization with roots from the Medellin cartel, a drug cartel distributing cocaine once run by Pablo Escobar, the most notorious drug lord of Colombia (Pablo Escobar: The King of Coke). Previous members of the Medellin cartel formed the FARC as a guerrilla group targeting the Colombian government, as it undergoes cocaine-for-weapons trading for its funding and militia-building. The FARC is especially notorious for child recruitment in its militia, as a report by De Rivaz, featuring an excerpt from a memoir written by former FARC Commander Jacobo Arenas, noted that “children from 10 years old can do useful jobs, like organizing young revolutionaries.” Obviously, the foregoing remark shows a blatant exploitation of the vulnerabilities of children recruited by the FARC for its private militias, henceforth rendering it guilty of violating not only Article 1 of the UDHR, but also the entire UNCRC (De Rivaz). Moreover, children recruited in the militia of the FARC are exposed to severely dangerous risks related to their security and health – firearms and cocaine, in particular (De Rivaz). Should the Colombian government continue to struggle in its fight against the FARC, children will continue to be exposed to the exploitative dangers of said terrorist organization (De Rivaz).
Conclusion and Recommendation
Human dignity, according to Article 1 of the UDHR, is certainly not emphasized in child recruitment for militias. Children, with their inherent vulnerabilities, stand to take on disadvantages when it comes to their well-being – their playtime and learning sessions in school replaced by militia training sessions and their valuable time for growth wasted on the battlefield, hence putting their young lives at great risk. Given the respective cases of the US and Colombia, the need to urge nations to submit periodic reports to the UN on their progress concerning the UDHR and the UNCRC stands as a valuable recommendation. Increasing efforts to promote education and livelihood projects at the grassroots level, which stands to benefit both children and their parents in communities, also stands as a favorable recommendation for preventing child recruitment in militias, particularly those handled by terrorist organizations and guerilla groups. Lastly, the enforcement of anti-child recruitment laws should come as a strong priority for all nations, for the purpose of promoting peace, order and development among children therein.
“Annex 7, Recent Relevant Legislation: Part I – The Child Soldier Prevention Act of 2008." State.gov. n.d. State.gov. 26 November 2014. <http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/135981.pdf>.
De Rivaz, Charlie. “FARC Systematically Recruits Child Soldiers: Study." Colombia Reports. 17 September 2013. Colombia Reports. 26 November 2014. <http://colombiareports.co/farc-systematically-recruits-child-soldiers-study/>.
Donnelly, Jack. Universal Human Rights in Theory and Practice. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2013. Print.
Mann, Jonathan. "Dignity and Health: The UDHR's Revolutionary First Article." Health and Human Rights 3.2 Fiftieth Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1998): 30-38. Print.
"Pablo Escobar: The King of Coke." YouTube. YouTube, LLC, 2007. Web. 26 November 2014. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Mb7MBz2AgY>.
Rogin, Josh. “Child Soldier Backlash: White House Argues Continuing Military Assistance More Important Than Enforcing Law." The Cable, Foreign Policy. 28 October 2010. Foreign Policy. 26 November 2014. <http://thecable.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2010/10/28/child_soldiers_backlash_white_house_argues_continuing_military_assistance_more_impo>.
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