US Foreign Policy
Data Tool
CSPA Implementation Tracker

About the CSPA

Monitoring U.S. government efforts to leverage arms sales and military assistance to prevent the recruitment and use of child soldiers
Part of the Child Soldiers Project

The Child Soldiers Prevention Act

Children are profoundly affected by armed conflicts around the world. Children often shoulder the burden of conflict and are recruited and used by armed groups to serve on the frontlines and/or in support of armed operations. National militaries, government-supported paramilitaries, and non-state armed groups all recruit and use child soldiers. Those recruiting child soldiers often rely on weapons and military assistance from some of the world’s leading arms exporters. The United States is one of few countries in the world that conditions arms sales and military assistance on a government’s record of child soldier use.

In 2008, Congress passed a law aimed expressly at preventing the exploitation of children in armed conflict by leveraging U.S. arms sales and military assistance to prompt governments to end the recruitment or use of child soldiers. The law, known as the Child Soldiers Prevention Act (CSPA), took effect in 2009 and contains several elements to help prevent and ultimately end the use of children as tools of warfare around the world.

Legislative Timeline

December 23, 2002
The United States ratifies the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict.
December 10, 2008
Congress passes the Child Soldiers Prevention Act as part of the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008.
December 23, 2008
President George W. Bush signs the Child Soldiers Prevention Act (CSPA) into law.
June 21, 2009
The CSPA takes effect, initiating the first year of U.S. Department of State reporting on governments that are complicit in the recruitment and use of child soldiers.
June 14, 2010
The U.S. Department of State publishes its first public list of foreign governments that recruited or used or supported the recruitment or use of children in armed conflict in their countries, prohibiting specific categories of U.S. arms sales and military assistance for six governments, under the terms of the CSPA.
October 25, 2010
President Obama invokes the use of national interest waivers for the first time, waiving CSPA prohibitions for four of six countries identified in the first CSPA list. This determination waived 99 percent of otherwise prohibited assistance.
February 28, 2013
Congress amends the CSPA, within the context of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013, to include Peacekeeping Operations assistance within the scope of U.S. military assistance programs covered by the CSPA.
March 7, 2013
President Obama signs the 2013 CSPA amendments into law.
December 21, 2018
Congress amends the CSPA's scope in the Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act of 2018 to cover “police, and other security forces” using child soldiers, though notably does not permit law enforcement assistance to be withheld from those countries. Congress also requires that the State Department release annual public reports on CSPA implementation and that presidential waivers be accompanied by a certification that recipients are making progress to address the problem of child soldiers.
January 8, 2019
President Trump signs the 2018 CSPA amendments into law.

The CSPA requires the U.S. Secretary of State to publish an annual list of countries whose armed forces, police or other security forces, or government-backed armed groups recruit or use child soldiersThe CSPA states that the term “child soldier” means any person under 18 years of age who takes a direct part in hostilities as a member of governmental armed forces, police, or other security forces; any person under 18 years of age who has been compulsorily recruited into governmental armed forces, police, or other security forces; any person under 15 years of age who has been voluntarily recruited into governmental armed forces, police, or other security forces; or any person under 18 years of age who has been recruited or used in hostilities by armed forces distinct from the armed forces of a state; and includes any person above who is serving in any capacity, including in a support role such as cook, porter, messenger, medic, guard, or sex slave.. This list, commonly referred to as “the CSPA list,” is published in the U.S. Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons report. Once identified, these countries are prohibited from receiving certain types of U.S. military assistance, training, and defense equipment in the following fiscal year. 

The CSPA prohibits seven types of U.S. arms salesThe transfer of U.S. military equipment, defense services, or weapons to a foreign country, foreign private firm, or international organization via sale, lease, loan, or grant. The CSPA Implementation Tracker uses the term to refer generally to sales conducted under the Foreign Military Sales and Direct Commercial Sales programs. and military assistanceThe provision of U.S. military education, training, equipment, financing for U.S. arms, or weapons to a foreign country. The CSPA Implementation Tracker uses the term to refer generally to assistance provided under the Excess Defense Articles, Foreign Military Financing, International Military Education and Training, and Peacekeeping Operations programs, as well as assistance provided under Section 333, 1206, and 1208 authorities. that fall under both Departments of State and Defense accounts, to include:

Arms Sales

  • Direct Commercial Sales
  • Foreign Military Sales

Military Assistance

  • Excess Defense Articles
  • Foreign Military Financing
  • International Military Education and Training
  • Peacekeeping Operations
  • Section 1206 / 333

The U.S. president can choose to waive the law’s prohibitions against any or all countries identified on the CSPA list during a given year, if so doing is deemed to be in the “national interest of the United States.”

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