The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has condemned governments, clergy and parents who encourage children to participate in violent protests and pitched battles in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.
In a resolution adopted by its national membership of more than 60,000 pediatricians, AAP termed the use of adolescent soldiers the most virulent form of child abuse.
The resolution was initiated earlier this year by some 200 pediatricians, who formed Doctors Opposed to Child Sacrifice (DOCS).
One of DOCS' founders, Dr. Pejman Salimpour, clinical chief of pediatrics at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, said he acted after watching nightly television footage of Palestinian children clashing with Israeli soldiers on the West Bank and in Gaza.
"These children are being used as forced foot soldiers in a war directed by their elders," Salimpour said. "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."
In support of the resolution, Dr. Charles Johnson, director of child abuse at the Columbus (Ohio) Children's Hospital, appealed to offending governments "to halt the outrageous use of young bodies for political ends."
While the proliferation of youthful Palestinian martyrs represents the most visible case of child abuse, countries such as Sierra Leone, Angola, Uganda, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Cambodia and Afghanistan are also culpable, Salimpour said.
The AAP also reaffirmed its support of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child, which defines a child as age 15 and under. Amnesty International estimates that currently more than 300,000 child soldiers under 16 are fighting in conflicts in more than 30 countries.