While our children go off to school, many Somali children are going off to war. 80 percent of the Somali rebel groups are comprised of children. The rebel groups, however, are not the only perpetrators. 20 percent of the Somali transitional government is made up of children, some as young as 9 years old.

These child soldiers, only occasionally paid $1.50 a day, sport fully loaded assault rifles as they roam the dilapidated streets of lawless Somalia. They are employed by the Somali army, almost entirely armed and financed by the United States. Some of the children have even claimed to have recently returned from training in Uganda, where U.S. military officers have been overseeing the training for Somali soldiers.

The U.S. funding going to training and arming child soldiers in Somalia, exemplifies the effects of AFRICOM. AFRICOM is an independent military command for Africa and represents an increased expansionism by the U.S. military.

One of AFRICOM’s chief functions is to train and equip African militaries such as the one in Somalia. According to the New York Times, when questioned about how the U.S. was ensuring that it’s funding was not going to support child soldiers in Somalia, a U.S. official responded, “I don’t have a good answer for that.”

Furthermore, AFRICOM’s efforts generally contribute to further destabilization and conflict, rather than peace. The New York Times also recorded former defense minister Sheik Yusuf Mohamed Siad saying, “All this international training, it’s just training soldiers for the Shabab [rebel group].” This conclusion stems from the increasing number of defections from the Somali army.

Despite the recent failures of AFRICOM in the Congo and Mauritania, President Obama increased its budget for fiscal year 2010.

Where do you want your tax dollars to go? To the Department of Defense to arm and train child soldiers and fuel aggression?

Or you could urge the U.S. government to give it to nonmilitary agencies that will help build schools and provide children in Somalia and the rest of Africa with the education necessary to end the cycle of conflict. Learn more about how to resist AFRICOM.

The U.S. is also not in the best position right now to pressure Somalia end the use of child soldiers. It is the only country, besides Somalia, to not have ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, an international treaty that prohibits the use of children under the age of 15 in armed conflict.

The U.S., as the world hegemon and the leading provider of humanitarian assistance to Somalia, could have immense sway in preventing their use of child soldiers. The U.S. failure to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child, however, hurts its credibility to pressure Somalia.

While campaigning, President Obama agreed that our failure to ratify the Convention “is embarrassing”; however, we have still not seen a move made to rectify the situation.

The U.S. must be held more accountable. Action must be taken immediately both to ratify the Convention on the rights of the Child and to prevent U.S. funding of military conflicts in Africa. These steps cannot be delayed when children’s innocence is at stake.

Wednesday, according to the New York Times, the UN Security Council discussed the use of child soldiers and declared a “readiness” to adopt sanctions against those who participate in this practice. While this is a positive step, rhetoric is not enough; the U.S. should take a leadership role in enacting this change immediately.

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