Obama Exempts Four Countries from Law Barring U.S. Military Assistance to Nations Using Child Soldiers

By J. Brady Howell | November 9, 2010 | 11:47 AM EST

Sudanese child soldiers at decommissioning. (AP photo)

(CNSNews.com) - President Barack Obama has exempted four countries from a law that restricts the United States from providing military aid to governments that employ child soldiers, and a Republican congressman who co-wrote the law wants to know why.

A memorandum signed by Obama and released by the White House on Oct. 25 claims that the exemptions are due to “national interest.” The countries exempted are Sudan, Chad, Yemen, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Those four countries were named in a State Department report as “hosting governmental armed forces or government-supported armed groups that recruit and use child soldiers.” Two other nations named in the report -- Myanmar (Burma) and Somalia -- do not receive military aid from the United States.

The “Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008” was signed into law on Dec. 23, 2008, by President George W. Bush as part the “William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Prevention Reauthorization Act of 2008.” The larger bill originally sponsored by current Vice President Joe Biden garnered bipartisan support. Republican Sens. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), as well as Democratic Sens. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) are listed as co-sponsors.

The law requires the State Department to list governments that recruit and use child soldiers in the annual “Trafficking in Persons Report.” Governments appearing on the list are prohibited from receiving military assistance or buying arms from the United States unless the president grants an exemption on grounds of “national interest.”

The presidential memorandum does not explain how providing military support to the exempted governments is in the national interest.

The White House did not respond to CNSNews.com’s request for clarification on this point before this article was posted. According to the Associated Press, State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley explained that the countries in question need more time.

“These countries have put the right policies in place but are struggling to effectively implement them," said Crowley. "These waivers allow the United States to continue to conduct valuable training programs.” Under the law those programs “directly related to addressing the problem of child soldiers or professionalization of the military” are exempt from the ban.

But Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.), cosponsor of the law in the House, said providing assistance to such governments “presents an affront to our principles.”

“It is true that we must work to help prevent spiraling instability and promote a semblance of just order in the midst of what are often highly volatile security situations,” Fortenberry said in a statement.

“Yet we are obligated by law to combat this most serious human rights violation, especially prevalent in the world's ungoverned spaces, where children can easily fall victim to coercion and abhorrent abuses," he said. "We must have an urgent dialogue about ending this human rights abuse, and that begins with the issue of military assistance to these countries.”

The law requires the president to notify the relevant House and Senate committees of the justification for the wavier within 45 days.