My Turn: Childhood and military don’t mix
I am concerned about the Concord Monitor’s repeated portrayal of children in military garb or involved in militaristic training. I first noticed these tacit endorsements of children in the military in December 2011, when a 14-year-old appeared in the newspaper in military fatigues. Since then I have seen an elementary-age child in a SWAT uniform and more recently an article that featured a high school football team that permitted the National Guard to assist with pre-season physical preparation for upcoming games.
The fact that the military are recruiting children in New Hampshire junior high schools and high schools came to my attention when a 14-year-old cadet introduced himself to me when I was visiting Concord High School. He said he was being trained at a local junior high school. Apparently, children as young as 12 may join such programs. I and others in the state have observed military recruiters in school dining halls and at college recruiting days.
This recruiting violates the United Nations’ binding protocol signed by the United States. In 2002, the United States signed the binding Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The protocol states that the minimum age for military recruitment is 17. The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, the body that monitors the protocol, has “called on the US to end military training in public schools and stop targeting racial minorities and children of low-income families.”
Recruiting children in the school system is not limited to the programs and tactics mentioned above.
The schools are also complicit. In a study I conducted of all New Hampshire high schools several years ago, many schools sent students’ personal contact information directly to the military without giving parents and students the option of having the information withheld. This is contrary to the No Child Left Behind Act, Section 9528. Parents and children should be given the opportunity to opt out of their information being shared with the military. Such a case was settled between the ACLU and the Albuquerque school system in which the school system is required to send parents and students a form to opt out of the system.
If this breach of privacy were not enough, the schools also expose children to another form of recruitment and information gathering on the part of the military. High school students are given the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) exam. Although this is a voluntary exam, many schools neglect to tell students they may opt out of it. Children are encouraged to take it because they can get out of going to class and it is touted as a career counseling tool. Seldom is the full name of the exam mentioned, so many students do not understand the military aspect of the exam nor do they necessarily know that all their answers are entered into a national database used for military.
Last year, at the behest of New Hampshire Peace Action and New Hampshire Veterans for Peace, the state Board of Education sent letters to New Hampshire school superintendents urging them to inform all high school principals that students and parents should be made aware of “Option 8.”
Option 8 states that the ASVAB test results will not be sent to any military recruiters unless the parent/guardian consents or if the student is 18 when the student may choose to do so on his/her own.
Legislation, House Bill 1321, has been introduced to codify the use of Option 8 in New Hampshire in order to protect children’s privacy.
When confronted by child soldiers in Africa and Latin America, we are horrified. Maybe we need to look in the mirror and our own schoolyards too. Following the United States’ international agreements, and instituting best practices to ensure parental and child privacy in our school systems, would go a long way to restoring the constructive concept of childhood and adhering to our constitutional right to privacy.
(Ginny Schneider lives in Henniker.)