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Article distorted pediatricians’ statement on children in war

By Leigh E. Rich

An article written by Tom Tugend of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (“60,000 US pediatricians oppose use of children in battle,” May 11, 2001, IJN) “does not accurately reflect” the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recent statement reaffirming the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, particularly the articles denouncing the use of children in armed conflict, says Dr. Steve Berman, president of the AAP and a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital and CU Health Sciences Center’s School of Medicine.

The article, Berman says, confuses the AAP’s statement initiated by its section on international health and its committee on child abuse and neglect as that of Doctors Opposed to Child Sacrifice founder Dr. Pejman Salimpour of Ceders-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

DOCS was started by Salimpour “and a group of primarily Jewish pediatricians who have been very distressed at the use of children within the Middle East conflict,” says Berman.

Salimpour “said he formed [DOCS] after watching nightly television footage of Palestinian-Israeli clashes in the West Bank and in Gaza,” Tugend wrote.

“These children are being used as foot soldiers in a war directed by their elders. . . . They are often placed as human shields for gunmen, who shoot over their heads at Israeli positions,” Salimpour was quoted as saying in the JTA article.

“The problem with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency piece,” Berman says, “is that it creates the impression, because of the way it’s worded, that the academy has specifically condemned the Palestinians. That’s not what we did.”

The AAP released its statement on its Web site ( in April of this year and called for support of the Convention’s articles 38 and 39, which speak out against exploitation, neglect and torture of children as well the use of children under the age of 15 in hostilities in conflict areas.

While it does state that the “present conflict in the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans highlights the dangerous situations children of the world face,” Berman says the academy did not single out any specific culture or group.

“What has happened is that there’s been some confusion between the positions that DOCS and Dr. Salimpour have taken and the academy.

“Although the language is the same [in the AAP statement and Tugend’s piece], the message is very different,” Berman maintains.

According to Berman, the article also implies a connection between the two groups. “Doctors Opposed to Child Sacrifice refers to the academy’s statement, but it has no relationship to the academy.”

The impetus for the AAP’s statement was the fact that “in various parts of the world, children are being exploited for political reasons in a way that places those children in harm’s way,” he says.

“The American Academy of Pediatrics felt that it was important to remind pediatricians and the general public that exploitation in this way is really a form of child abuse. If we don’t speak out and condemn the use of children in this way, we are in essence condoning that children be exploited.

“The academy has endorsed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. We were simply reaffirming what has been long-standing policy of the academy.

“I think it was not simply the Middle East, but it was the sense that we were facing a really widespread exploitation of children” such as “the use of Iranian children to clear minefields and the fact that in Rwanda militaries were forcing children younger than 16 to fight in the civil wars. Similar kinds of things were happening in Asia.”

This is not “an anti-Palestinian statement,” Berman stresses. “We call for restraint on all sides. There should be restraint on the Israeli side. There should be restraint on the Palestinian side.”

By taking sides, “we lose our credibility in the world to speak out on children. Our strong feeling is that it’s not appropriate for our organization to specifically condemn any side in any conflict.”

Berman says an added corollary of the AAP’s recent statement is a reminder for the US government to reconsider signing the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

“It is further the hope of the Academy that the contents of this Convention should be brought to the attention of the American public and Government officials with the expectation that the United States will join the other 189 countries that have already signed and ratified it into law,” the Web site states.

“We think that international organizations need to respect the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. As a first step, we would like the United States to endorse this. The United States is the only major country that has not signed the UN Convention,” Berman says.

“We feel that it’s inappropriate and disgraceful that the US hasn’t agreed to sign this.” 

Rich, L. E. (2001, May 18). Article distorted pediatricians’ statement on children in war, says local physician. Intermountain Jewish News, p. 17A.

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