Red Hand Day for Child Soldiers is an annual commemoration drawing attention to the plight of children forced to serve as soldiers in wars and armed conflicts.
The Red Hand symbol has been used all over the world by the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers and many civil society organisations to say no to the recruitment and use of child soldiers.
The Day was initiated in 2002 when the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict came into force on 12 February.
Since then, the number of child soldiers has hardly changed – there are still 250,000 children used in wars as soldiers. 12 February has become a day for national and regional coalitions, NGOs, individuals and interested parties to hold events to highlight the issue of child soldiers.
According to Human Rights Watch, “Today, child soldiers are fighting in at least 14 countries around the world. Boys and girls alike are forced into combat, exploited for their labor, and subjected to unspeakable violence. A UN treaty prohibits the participation of children under the age of 18 in hostilities. But too often, it is not enforced, and many countries have not yet ratified it.
In 2009, hundreds of youth and student groups from around the world called for stronger action to end the use of child soldiers. They gathered over 250,000 “red hands”-the symbol of the global campaign against the use of child soldiers-and presented them to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in New York on February 12, 2009. In response, the Secretary-General pledged that the entire UN system would work to “stamp out” such abuse.
This year, the Red Hand Campaign is pressing for universal ratification of the treaty banning the use of child soldiers. The treaty, known as the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, prohibits the use of children under age 18 in hostilities or their forced recruitment. Since it was adopted ten years ago, 131 governments-two-thirds of the world’s countries- have ratified it.
However, 61 countries have still not ratified the optional protocol. The Red Hand Day Campaign will urge these countries to ratify the optional protocol and make clear their absolute commitment to ending the use of child soldiers. Our goal is for every country in the world to ratify the optional protocol by 2012, the tenth anniversary of when the optional protocol took effect.