Raise Your Hand: Renewing our Commitment to Children Affected by Conflict

UPDATE: The Senate passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act as an amendment to the Violence against Women Act today at 2:56 PM (ET). Congratulations Women of Vision, this is a direct result of all your amazing work over the last two years! Please call your senators and thank them for passing the TVPRA. Then call your representative and ask them to support the reintroduction and passage of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act. 

Mugunga Displacement Camp

Photo credit: World Vision

Nyaranzo (not her real name) looks up to the sky as the sound of gunfire and explosions echo from the horizon. No one needs to tell her what it is. The sound is familiar, it’s the reason she’s on the run, hungry and lonely. Eight-years-old Nyaranzo is among thousands of internally displaced people in the Democratic Republic of Congo who are homeless because of fighting between government troops and a rebel group. At night, she sleeps in a dusty classroom and during the day her home is a playground. She has no family here – possibly lost as they ran for their lives. The sounds of the explosions bring a lull to those around her. “Maybe my mum is still coming,” she says, her deep sadness and hunger shows in her eyes as she looks up to the sky.

For children around the world, like Nyaranzo, violence and conflict can cause displacement, family separation, hunger, and lack of access to clean water, education, and health care. Because of these things it can also put them at risk for abuse, neglect, exploitation, and violence. Displacement and disruption of normal patterns of life weakens the protective environment around children and places them at greater risk for trafficking, neglect, exploitative work, and recruitment into armed forces.

Through laws like the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) and the Child Soldier Prevention Act (CSPA), the United States addresses the vulnerabilities to exploitation and slavery of children affected by conflict. The TVPRA of 2008, which is the cornerstone of all U.S. legislation to protect vulnerable men, women, and children from trafficking, prosecute traffickers, and protect survivors, contained increased protections for internally displaced people and refugees, specifically protections for children who are separated from their families to ensure that they are resettled or reintegrated safely.  It also included the CSPA which prohibits the U.S. government from giving military aid to governments that recruit or use children in their armed forces. These important pieces of legislation strengthen the U.S. response to children affected by armed conflict.

As advocates around the world observe Child Soldier Awareness Day (also known as Red Hand Day) today by asking countries to make a commitment to protecting children affected by conflict, ask our elected leaders to renew our commitment. Congress needs to reauthorize the TVPRA every few years. In 2011, the TVPRA needed to be reauthorized but it has not been reauthorized yet. This puts the U.S. effort to end modern-day slavery on hold and critical programs and diplomatic leverage in jeopardy.  Despite the verbal commitment of the Obama Administration to implement the CSPA, the President has consistently issued national security waivers to nearly all the countries that are known to use children in their armed force. In 2012, waivers were given to four countries: South Sudan, Libya, Yemen, and Democratic Republic of Congo (partially). DRC and Yemen have received waivers for the past three years. Though the Administration has been engaged on this issue and discussed the recruitment and use of children with these countries,  the use of waivers takes the threat of funding cuts off the table and thus forces the U.S to keep its best tool in the toolbox.

So what can you do? Does your action really make a difference? Yes! I had a chance to ask Sarah Sagely Klotz, a former foreign policy Congressional staffer, about her time working to protect children who have been recruited or kidnapped into armed forces.  I asked her what helps legislation move forward and the role advocates can have.

I think what helps move a bill forward is a Member or staffer who is passionate about a specific issue.  There are thousands of bills introduced each Congress and especially when it is an issue that doesn’t pertain to a Member’s district or state (like the issue of child soldiers) it is important to find and build a relationship with a staffer who is passionate about the issue and will help get some momentum going. It is also important to be prepared!  As a former staffer, I really appreciated those who would come to meet with me and/or my boss and had done their homework. They knew what issues of jurisdiction my boss had and how we would be able to be involved (i.e. Committee work, advocacy, initiating legislation or being a cosponsor for support, funding, etc).  

If you want to push something through Congress, you can’t expect it to happen overnight.  It is a long tedious process that could take a few years so you should have the long-term perspective in mind. Advocates play a vital role in not only giving wind to efforts to get something introduced or through Congress, but acting as a resource to Congress.  Advocates not only give passion, but can give a depth of insight and knowledge about certain issues. Members of Congress and their staff are juggling several issues at one time and it is invaluable to have a trusted resource to be able to call and ask for help, insight, and experience.  Once you begin that sort of relationship, when you come back to that Member or staffer for a request, you will certainly have their ear.

So, with that in mind, here are three simple steps you can take today:

  1. Call your Senators and Representatives and ask them to support the immediate reintroduction and reauthorization of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act.
  2. Sign the petition to President Obama telling him to stop using taxpayer money to assist foreign militaries that recruit and use children. We will deliver the petition to the Administration in August. Help us get to 100,000 signatures!
  3. Share your vision for a world free of exploitation with your community, friends, and family.

Become a Child in Crisis partner. Your monthly gift will help us provide interventions such as safe shelter for children who have been abandoned, orphaned, abducted, and exploited; nutritious food for children affected by famine, AIDS, armed conflict, and neglect; counseling, health care, and recovery assistance for children who have survived sexual abuse, enslavement, the horrors of war, and other atrocities; and peacebuilding activities to help foster conflict resolution.

Today at 2:15 PM (ET) the Senate is scheduled to vote on attaching the TVPRA to the Violence Against Women Act. This would be similar language to  S. 1301 that Women of Vision advocated for at the last National Conference!

UPDATE: The Senate voted at 11:55 AM (ET) to attach the TVPRA to the Violence Against Women Act. The Senate has several other amendments it is considering and it is scheduled to vote on the Violence Against Women Act later today.

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