Once again President Obama has waived a congressionally mandated ban on military aid to countries known to exploit child soldiers. Among them is the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), whose eastern region is exceedingly rich in rare earth minerals; and exceedingly rife with decades of brutal war over those minerals, record rates of rape, sexual mutilation of women and girls, and the entrapment of children as soldiers by the government and warring militias. The DRC and three other countries that use child soldiers will receive over $161 million in U.S. military aid in 2016.
The U.S. Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008 bans our government from providing military resources and aid to countries that recruit soldiers younger than 18; however, it also allows a presidential waiver in cases of “national interest.” But what possible national interest can override the lives of thousands of children hardened in the worst of childhood nightmares — lives of being forced to torture, murder, and rape; and lives of being serially raped and made pregnant?
Grace Akallo, abducted at 15 into a rebel militia, has written of the morbid experience of child soldiers. They were pushed to the point of physical death with walking barefoot, with little food and water; to the point of spiritual death, beaten with sticks and forced to torture, mutilate and kill other children (kill or be killed) in a seasoning process to de-humanize, extinguish their conscience, and break their wills. Girls suffer most, being forced into being both soldiers for killing with AK 47s and also concubine wives for army commanders. Many are permanently injured and suffer lifelong pain as a result of multiple rapes. In returning to their village community, numerous girls have reported that they were rejected as filthy and immoral, a stigma that leads them into prostitution or staying with an ex-soldier “husband” to survive.
What do child soldiers, the decades-old conflict in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, a region designated the “rape capital of the world” by the U.N., have to do with Massachusetts?
More than most realize.
In Massachusetts we can have the opportunity to know whether the conflict minerals mined in eastern Congo are in products sold within the state and, thus, an opportunity to take action against purchasing them, as have the states of Maryland and California. The federal Dodd-Frank financial services law requires that publicly traded companies audit their supply chains and report the use of Congo conflict minerals (namely tin, tungsten, tantalum, and gold), commonly found in jewelry, electronics and cell phones. Massachusetts has legislation, Senate bill 1682 An Act Relative to Congo Conflict Minerals, initially introduced to the Legislature by legislator Martin Walsh, now mayor of Boston. This bill prohibits companies that fail to comply with the Dodd-Frank law from contracting with the state of Massachusetts, thus adding a powerful incentive for companies to comply with the federal reporting law and to find non-conflict sources for their manufactured products. Once law, S1682 could assure that our state does not spend tax dollars on companies financing Congo-based atrocities.
Let us act to protect Congo’s children from a future shattered by war and sexual violence. Urge Senate President Stanley Rosenberg (617-722-1500), Stan.Rosenberg@masenate.gov) and Chairwoman Karen Spilka (617-722-1640), Karen.Spilka@masenate.gov) to advance S1682 An Act Relative to Congo Conflict Minerals (now pending in the Senate Committee on Ways and Means) so that the bill can be enacted during this legislative session. With a one-minute phone call or email asking that “S1682 be passed into law this summer,” we can make a difference in the lives of the women, children, and men of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
H. Patricia Hynes directs the Traprock Center for Peace and Justice in western Massachusetts. She is a retired professor of environmental health from Boston University.