LOS ANGELES, Dec. 10 (JTA) A group of U.S. pediatricians has condemned the use of children in battles in the Middle East, Asia and Africa as a particularly virulent form of child abuse.
The impetus for their protest came from the use of Palestinian children in the front lines against Israeli troops in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
More than 200 pediatricians formed DOCS Doctors Opposed to Child Sacrifice to combat the abuse of children at the hands of parents, clergy and governments.
“Day in and day out, Palestinian families feed their children healthy breakfasts and see them off into battles on the streets of the Palestinian-controlled areas to clash with Israelis soldiers at the edges of their communities,” said Dr. Pejman Salimpour, clinical chief of pediatrics at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
“These children are being used as forced foot soldiers in a war directed by their elders,” he added.
“They are often placed as human shields for gunmen, who shoot over their heads at Israeli positions. Dozens and dozens of young children have been killed, their innocence and souls snuffed out, all as a result of parents and community members who abuse them by encouraging and allowing their involvement in the violence.”
Dr. Neal Kaufman of Cedars-Sinai said: “We’re talking mainly about children 8 to 11 years old. As pediatricians, who are devoting their lives to the health and well-being of children, we are morally bound to raise our voices against this vicious form of child abuse. To remain silent would be worse than standing aside while parents sold their children into slavery or prostitution.”
Dr. Ofelia Marin, a pediatric gastroenterologist in private practice, said that her concern “cuts across religious and national lines. As a Catholic, a physician and a human being, I feel strongly that children should be protected, not used. Sending children into battle is the worst form of child abuse.”
DOCS is focusing on the proliferation of child “martyrs” among Palestinians, but Salimpour said countries such as Sierra Leone, Angola, Uganda, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Cambodia and Afghanistan are guilty of similar practices.
At the same time, DOCS’ founding statement urges all governments “to exercise maximum restraint when confronting non-peaceful demonstrations that include children.”
The U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child defines a “child” as anyone under 15 years of age.
Amnesty International estimates that more than 300,000 soldiers who are younger than 16 are currently fighting in conflicts in more than 30 countries.
Pediatricians interested in DOCS’ goals are asked to contact the organization by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.