Almost 600,000 of America’s 1 million active and reserve soldiers enlisted as teens.
The military lures these physiologically immature kids with a PR machine that would make Joe Camel proud. The military markets itself to children as young as 13 with multimedia videos, school visits and cold calls to teens’ homes and cell phones. The Department of Defense (DoD) spends more than $4 billion a year on recruiting, with $1.5 billion for advertising and maintaining the recruiting stations staffed by more than 22,000 recruiters.Much of that money goes to convincing children to become soldiers.
In 2002, almost half of Marine recruits were 17 or 18. A Pentagon survey found that “for both males and females, propensity [to enlist] is highest among 16- and 17-year-olds.” That “propensity” quickly declines with age.
A recent study headed by Jay Giedd of the National Institutes of Health using MRI scans shows that the brain of an 18-year-old is not fully developed, with the limbic cortex-brain structures, the cerebellum and prefrontal cortex still undergoing substantial changes. Teenagers’ brains simply lack the impulse control that can prevent a lifetime of regret, psychological and physical disability, and preventable deaths—their own, their fellow soldiers’ and those of civilians.
The child soldier problem is global and so is America’s role in it. The State Department reports that 10 countries are violating international treaties against child soldiers. Washington provides military assistance to nine of these outlaw nations: Afghanistan, Burundi, Chad, Colombia, Ivory Coast, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sri Lanka, Sudan and Uganda.
“Chiefs of warfare reach out to children precisely because they are innocent, malleable, impressionable,” says Olara Otunnu, the U.N. Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict.
The science is clear: Turning children below the age of brain maturity into soldiers, whether in the United States or Sudan, exploits that vulnerability.
[Excerpt of an article by Terry J. Allen]