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Document Type

Article

First Page

71

Abstract

There are an estimated 250,000 child soldiers—boys and girls under the age of eighteen—who are being compelled to serve in more than fifteen conflicts worldwide. Child soldiers are forcibly recruited or abducted and are used as combatants, messengers, porters, cooks, and to provide sexual services. International law now recognizes child soldiers as victims of war crimes, deserving of state compassion. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, however, has opposed asylum for child soldiers on the grounds that their military service subjects them to the “persecutor bar.” Barring child soldiers from asylum protection penalizes them for having been the victims of a crime and undercuts all efforts to protect them. This Article argues that a per se bar of child soldiers from asylum contradicts the United States’ adherence to the international view that the use of child soldiers constitutes a violation of human rights, domestic laws declaring recruitment of child soldiers a crime, and active support of the eradication of the use of child soldiers. Instead, child soldiers should be able to argue that their conduct falls beyond the scope and intent of the persecutor bar. This Article concludes by offering an approach to determine when a child solider should be subjected to the persecutor bar that balances the seriousness of the child soldier’s actions against the circumstances under which he or she was recruited.