More than 200 pediatricians across the United States have condemned a particularly virulent form of child abuse by parents, clergy and governments who place children in the front lines of pitched battles in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.
The pediatricians have formed Doctors Opposed to Child Sacrifice (DOCS), and the impetus for their protest has come from observing constant confrontations in the West Bank and Gaza.
"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 Israeli soldiers at the edges of their communities," said Dr. Pejman Salimpour, clinical chief of pediatrics at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
"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." A second co-founder, Dr. Neal Kaufman of Cedars-Sinai, said, "We're talking mainly about children 8-11 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."
While DOCS is now focusing on the proliferation of child "martyrs" by Palestinians, such countries as Sierra Leone, Angola, Uganda, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Cambodia and Afghanistan are guilty of similar practices, said Salimpour.
At the same time, DOCS founding statement urges all governments "to exercise maximum restraint when confronting non-peaceful demonstrations that include children."
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, defines a "child" as under 15 years, and Amnesty International estimates that currently more than 300,000 child soldiers under 16 years are fighting in conflicts in more than 30 countries.
Pediatricians interested in the goals of DOCS are asked to contact the organization by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.