Georgia Bill Would Protect Minors from Aggressive Military Recruitment

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recruitbill(APN) ATLANTA–On January 28, 2010, state legislators, and advocates from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Georgia, American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) Southeast Region, and other groups held a press conference at the State Capitol to introduce a resolution to protect Georgia children from abusive military recruiting.

The legislation, HR 1219, was authored by State Rep. Stephanie Stuckey Benfield, who represents District 85 in DeKalb County. Ten co-sponsors have signed on to the House resolution, including State Reps. Alisha Thomas Morgan, Michelle Henson, Karla Drenner, Kathy Ashe, and Simone Bell.

State Sen. Nan Orrock has introduced a companion resolution, SR 955, in the State Senate. Co-sponsors include State Sens. Gloria Butler, Horacena Tate, Valencia Seay, Vincent Fort, and Ed Harbison.

The federal No Child Left Behind Act, passed by US Congress in 2001, requires schools–among other things–to disclose 11th and 12th grade students’ records to military recruiters or lose their federal funding. Peace activists sometimes refer to this act as “No Child Left Un-Recruited.”

“As a parent, it is necessary that school children aren’t contacted by military recruiters without the parents’ knowledge and consent,” State Rep. Benfield told Atlanta Progressive News.

“To join the Armed Services is a major life-changing decision that requires parental involvement. Our school system needs to be more uniform and pro-active to give parents information up-front, regarding opt-out forms that prohibit schools from disclosing students’ records to military recruiters,” Benfield said.

“Parents are often left out of the current opt-out process.”

Specifically, the bill would do three things according to its text. First it would “Cease all current and future programs and activities designed to recruit children under the age of 17, including but not limited to military schools and Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery testing.”

Second, the bill would require that “When instituting military-related programs and activities such as military schools and Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery testing for children ages 17 or older, Georgia schools do so only upon written consent from participating students’ parents or legal guardians obtained after fully informing the students and their parents or legal guardians about the military nature of the programs or activities, the fact that participation in such is completely voluntary, and the duties generally involved in military service.”

Third, the bill would require schools to “Begin to actively provide students and parents with exemption forms and information regarding exemption forms that would prohibit the students’ schools from disclosing students’ records to military recruiters as required by the No Child Left Behind Act.”

AFSC first learned about the US military’s plan to greatly expand the militarization of US public schools in 2008 from a letter leaked to their Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, office.

The letter was from William Bradley Bryant, Georgia 4th Congressional District State Board of Education Member and former President of the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE), to members of NASBE.

NASBE members were invited to meet at Fort Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina, September 15 through 19, 2008, with representatives from the US Army and the US Department of Defense to build strong relationships between the Army and public educators.

“They [the generals] want to dialogue with us [the educators]… with a direct connection to the youth of our country,” the letter reads.

“We will have the opportunity to test their (M16) weapons simulation, do humvee rollover simulations, etc… Can we say high school hands on learning,” the letter states.

In April of 2009 this alliance of the military-public school complex attempted to open the DeKalb Marine Corps Institute, to be funded in part by the Marine recruitment budget.

As previously reported by Atlanta Progressive News, the DMCI would have exposed students as young as 14 to military indoctrination, training, discipline, and culture.

This proposed military school generated many serious unanswered questions and concerns from the community.

Atlanta Grandmothers for Peace members obtained copies of the DeKalb Board of Education’s notes on the proposed military institute.

Hand written, in the margin, on one of the BOE notes revealed evidence of the unstated purpose for the DMCI: “Recruitment of AA [African American] and Hispanic Children Soldiers.”

Superintendent Crawford Lewis and other BOE members denied the charges leveled by concerned community members and peace activists that the DMCI would be a recruitment pipeline from middle school to the various US occupations in the Middle East.

Tim Franzen, Peace Building program director for the AFSC Southeastern Regional Office, led the community mobilizations against the DMCI. Franzen is concerned about the racial and economic inequities in military recruitment.

“Low-income recruits continue to fill the majority of boots on the front lines. Many end up in homeless shelters as a result of the wounds of war such as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD),” Franzen said. “One third of homeless people are veterans and one third of female veterans report being sexually assaulted while on duty.”

“In our high schools, military recruiters enjoy as much access to students as they want, often parading themselves as career counselors. The recruitment pitch often includes promises of college cash, job skill training, top notch lifetime benefits, and seeing the world. Some are even told they will likely not see combat,” Franzen said.

“What they don’t tell you is that the enlistment contract binds you but not the military. The military can breach the contract as they please,” Franzen said.

Franzen believes that students, parents, and teachers have the right to have a realistic picture of what military service and military benefits actually look like on the front-end of the recruitment process.

In an apparent victory, plans for the DMCI were suspended after weeks of public outcry. Dekalb County school officials said the plans were canceled because an agreement could not be reached with the military, although activists believe it was because of public pressure.

Veteran of the US Invasion and Occupation of Iraq, Christopher Raissi, was a Marine recruiter in Macon, Georgia in 2005.

“Recruiters are trained to work with everyone from freshmen to seniors in high school. From my experience, the schools don’t give any notification to the parents about dissemination of students’ personal information to recruiters,” Raissi wrote in an email obtained by APN.

“If parents ignore their phone calls, recruiters are trained to track down every kid on the list,” Raissi said.

In an 2008 interview with APN at Kennesaw State University, Raissi said: “As a recruiter in Macon, Georgia, I witnessed recruiters lying and manipulating young people into joining the service. Recruiters told kids they probably would not go to Iraq when they knew everyone was going to Iraq.”

The US Senate in 2002 ratified the “Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child” on the involvement of children in armed conflict, Azadeh Shahshahani, National Security/Immigrants’ Rights Project Director for the ACLU of Georgia, noted.

Under a binding declaration entered by the US when ratifying the Optional Protocol, 17 years is the absolute minimum age for military recruitment — even though the prevailing international standard is to prohibit the voluntary recruitment of children under the age of 18 into the military.

“We are only trying to hold public officials accountable to the standards that the U.S. government itself committed to,” Shahshahani wrote in an email.

The Committee on Rights of the Child (CRC), the United Nations body that monitors compliance with the Optional Protocol, called on the US to end military training in public schools and stop targeting racial minorities and children of low-income families.

The Optional Protocol is binding on the US government and state and local government entities and agents, including Georgia public schools.

“In Georgia there are clear indications of violations of the Optional Protocol. Such abuses by recruiters, including coercion, deception, and false promises, nullify the voluntariness of youths’ enlistment and are in contravention of the United States’ international human rights obligations,” Shahshahani wrote.

“The ACLU found that the US military continues to engage in tactics designed to recruit students under the age of 17 and fails to protect 17-year-old students from aggressive and abusive recruitment,” says Shahshahani.

Georgia House bill, HR 1219, thus urges the Georgia Department of Education and Georgia schools to safeguard the rights of children under the age of 17 from military recruitment and to implement basic safeguards for recruitment of 17-year-olds.

It encourages Georgia to cease current and future programs and activities designed to recruit children under the age of 17 into the military.

This historic resolution is the first of its kind in the country in light of its statewide nature. “The ACLU of GA and AFSC have already received inquires from activists elsewhere who have expressed interest in advancing similar measures in their localities,” Franzen said.

(END/2010)

About the author:

Gloria Tatum is a Staff Writer for The Atlanta Progressive News and is reachable at gloria@atlantaprogressivenews.com.

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