University of Southern California

Fighting for Asylum: A Statutory Exception to Relevant Bars for Former Child Soldiers

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Note by Dani Cepernich
From Volume 83, Number 5 (July, 2010)

Over the past decade, the tragedy of child soldiers has attracted increased attention. Much of the world, including the United States, has recognized the toll that this practice takes on the youth of our time and has dedicated itself to preventing the further use of child soldiers. In December of 2002, the United States became a party to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (“Optional Protocol”) and joined forty-four other states in the fight against the use of child soldiers. As a party to this protocol, the United States has committed itself to taking “all feasible measures to . . . accord to [persons within its jurisdiction recruited or used contrary to the protocol] all appropriate assistance for their physical and psychological recovery and their social reintegration.”

Despite this commitment, child soldiers are often denied asylum in the United States because of acts they were forced to commit while serving in foreign armed forces. The United Nations’ Committee on the Rights of the Child addressed this issue in its first review of the United States’ compliance with the Optional Protocol, in which it criticized the United States’ asylum law as applied to former child soldiers. The United States’ asylum law currently includes several potential obstacles for former child soldiers seeking asylum, two of the most prevalent of which are the “persecution of others” bar and the “material support” bar. If the United States is to come into compliance with the Optional Protocol, something must be done to provide greater protection under asylum law to former child soldiers.

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