Updated March 25, 2020
Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008: Security Assistance
The recruitment and use of children in armed conflict is
2019 Amendments to the CSPA
broadly viewed as a human rights problem, a form of
The Child Soldier Prevention Act of 2018 (Subtitle B
trafficking in persons, among the worst forms of child
of P.L. 115-425), which became law in January 2019,
labor, and a war crime. The United Nations (U.N.) has
strengthened some of the CSPA’s provisions.
identified the recruitment and use of child soldiers as
Significant changes included ensuring that countries
among six “grave violations” affecting children in war and
whose police or other security forces recruit and use
has established numerous monitoring and reporting
children are among those potentially subject to
mechanisms and initiatives to combat this practice. The
security assistance restrictions; requiring that the
U.N. Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-
President certify that countries receiving “national
General for Children and Armed Conflict affirmatively
interest” waivers for security assistance restrictions
verified over 7,000 children as having been recruited and
are taking steps to address the problem of child
used as soldiers in 2018 alone; the total number of children
soldiers; and requiring that the State Department
serving as soldiers around the world is believed to be
publicly report on justifications for waivers and
significantly higher.
exceptions to security assistance restrictions.

U.S. efforts to eradicate this phenomenon internationally
CSPA Reporting and Security Assistance
are guided largely by the Child Soldiers Prevention Act of
2008 (CSPA, Title IV of P.L. 110-457), which defines the
CSPA aims to combat the recruitment or use of children as
term “child soldier” under U.S. law and restricts certain
soldiers by publicly identifying countries that recruit or use
security assistance to countries that recruit or use child
child soldiers and restricting certain types of U.S. security
soldiers, among other provisions.
assistance to these countries. In particular, the law requires

Defining “Child Soldier”
that the Secretary of State publish annually a list of
countries within which “governmental armed forces, police,
The recruitment or use of persons under age 15 as soldiers
or other security forces,” or “government-supported armed
is prohibited by both the U.N. Convention on the Rights of
groups, including paramilitaries, militias, or civil defense
the Child (CRC) and the Additional Protocols to the
forces,” recruited or used child soldiers during the previous
Geneva Conventions, and is considered a war crime under
year. Pursuant to CSPA, the State Department, since 2010,
the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. In
has published a list of countries within the annual State
addition, the Optional Protocol to the CRC on the
Department Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP Report).
involvement of children in armed conflict further prohibits
persons under age 18 from being compulsorily recruited
Types of Security Assistance Prohibited
into state or nonstate armed forces or directly engaging in
The following types of security assistance are prohibited for
hostilities (while permitting voluntary recruitment of
countries designated pursuant to the CSPA (subject to
persons at least 15 years old). The United States is a party
exceptions and waivers, discussed below):
to the Optional Protocol.
 licenses for direct commercial sales (DCS) of military
Congress, through the CSPA, has defined child soldiers in a
manner consistent with the Optional Protocol. Under the
 foreign military financing (FMF) for the purchase of
CSPA, the term “child soldier” refers to persons under age
defense articles and services, as well as design and
18 who
construction services;

take direct part in hostilities as a member of
international military education and training (IMET);

governmental armed forces, police, or other security
excess defense articles (EDA); and

forces; or
peacekeeping operations (PKO).
 are compulsorily recruited into governmental armed
Department of Defense (DOD) “train and equip” authority
forces, police, or other security forces (or are under 15
for building the capacity of foreign defense forces, codified
years old and are voluntarily recruited), including in
at 10 U.S.C. 333, may also be subject to prohibition for
noncombat roles; or
CSPA-listed countries. This authority is restricted where
 are recruited or used in hostilities by nonstate armed
such security cooperation is “otherwise prohibited by any
forces, including in noncombat roles.
provision of law.” Presidential waiver determinations have
also referenced the authority as being potentially restricted

by the CSPA. Other forms of U.S. security assistance (not
listed above) to CSPA-listed countries may continue to be

Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008: Security Assistance Restrictions
provided under the law, although constraints may be
differences. The CSPA does not require the designation of
applied as a matter of policy.
countries in which child soldiers were recruited or used by
armed groups that are not supported by the government and,
until its January 2019 amendment, did not require the
The President may provide military education and training
designation of countries in which child soldiers were
through certain institutions and/or nonlethal supplies to a
recruited or used by police or other non-military
CSPA-designated country upon certifying that the recipient
governmental security forces.
government is taking steps to demobilize, reintegrate, and
rehabilitate child soldiers and that such assistance will
The 2019 TIP Report noted reports that Saudi Arabia had
support military professionalization. Similarly, the
provided salaries, training, and other support to “Sudanese
prohibition on PKO assistance does not apply to programs
combatants which included children aged 14-17 years old,
that support military professionalism, security sector
who may have been used in direct hostilities in Yemen,”
reform, respect for human rights, peacekeeping preparation,
but the State Department determined that the information
or the demobilization and reintegration of child soldiers.
was not sufficient to warrant Saudi Arabia’s inclusion on

the CSPA list. The State Department’s Office to Monitor
Presidential Waivers
and Combat Trafficking in Persons reportedly had argued
The President has authority under CSPA to waive all, or
internally for Saudi Arabia’s inclusion on the list.
certain types, of security assistance restrictions to a given
Previously, the 2017 TIP Report was criticized for not
country if the President determines that doing so serves
listing Afghanistan, Burma, and Iraq, which were reported
U.S. “national interest” and certifies to Congress that the
elsewhere to have recruited and used child soldiers. This
relevant government is “taking effective and continuing
decision reportedly prompted internal protest via the State
steps to address the problem of child soldiers.” The
Department’s dissent channel. Burma and Iraq were
President may similarly reinstate any assistance that would
subsequently listed in both 2018 and 2019, and Afghanistan
otherwise be prohibited by certifying that the country in
was listed in 2019.
question has implemented measures, including “an action
plan and actual steps” to end government or government-
Use of Presidential Waivers
supported recruitment or use of child soldiers and to
The executive branch has frequently waived security
prevent their future recruitment or use.
assistance restrictions for CSPA-listed countries (other than
those for which no U.S. security assistance was planned),
Most Recent Designations
allowing for the provision of hundreds of millions of dollars
The State Department designated 11 countries under CSPA
in otherwise restricted assistance. Since FY2015, full and
in the 2019 TIP Report, which was published on June 20,
partial waivers for Somalia, for example, have allowed for
2019. As compared to the 2018 list, Afghanistan and Sudan
over $200 million in DOD “train and equip” and
were added, while Niger and Nigeria were removed. In
Department of State PKO assistance, and over $500,000 in
December 2019, President Trump fully or partially waived
IMET. Some analysts and Members of Congress have
restrictions for all but four countries (see Table 1 below).
criticized the frequent use of waivers, arguing that it
undermines U.S. efforts to deter countries from using child
Table 1. 2019 Child Soldier Designations and Waivers
soldiers. Successive Administrations have justified
(applicable to FY2020)
exceptions and waivers based on a stated need to support
Restriction Status
counterterrorism, advance military professionalization, or
Ful Waiver
for other reasons defined as either in the national interest or
furthering the goals of CSPA itself. As described above,
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Partial Waiver
going forward, presidential waivers must now also include
a certification to Congress that the government in question
Ful Waiver
is taking steps to address the problem.
Partial Waiver
Partial Waiver
Relationship to Leahy Provisions
South Sudan
Partial Waiver
The U.S. “Leahy Laws” (22 U.S.C. 2378d and 10 U.S.C.
362) prohibit security assistance to foreign security forces
when there are credible indications that recipient units have
Partial Waiver
committed a “gross violation of human rights,” but the
Source: U.S. State Department; Federal Register, 84 FR 59519.
Leahy Laws do not define this term. In “vetting” proposed
recipients of assistance pursuant to the Leahy Laws, the
Issues for Congress
U.S. government has primarily drawn on the statutorily
Country Determinations
defined term “gross violations of internationally recognized
Some observers have previously criticized the State
human rights,” the definition of which does not specifically
Department’s child soldier country designations for
include the recruitment and use of child soldiers.
excluding certain countries listed in U.N. reports or the U.S.
Department of Labor’s reports on the worst forms of child
Michael A. Weber, Analyst in Foreign Affairs
labor. In some cases, these discrepancies may arise from
differences in reporting timelines or from definitional


Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008: Security Assistance Restrictions

This document was prepared by the Congressional Research Service (CRS). CRS serves as nonpartisan shared staff to
congressional committees and Members of Congress. It operates solely at the behest of and under the direction of Congress.
Information in a CRS Report should not be relied upon for purposes other than public understanding of information that has
been provided by CRS to Members of Congress in connection with CRS’s institutional role. CRS Reports, as a work of the
United States Government, are not subject to copyright protection in the United States. Any CRS Report may be
reproduced and distributed in its entirety without permission from CRS. However, as a CRS Report may include
copyrighted images or material from a third party, you may need to obtain the permission of the copyright holder if you
wish to copy or otherwise use copyrighted material.

https://crsreports.congress.gov | IF10901 · VERSION 9 · UPDATED