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Red Hand Day, February 12 each year, is an annual commemoration day on which pleas are made to political leaders and events are staged around the world to draw attention to the fates of child soldiers, children who are forced to serve as soldiers in wars and armed conflicts. The aim of Red Hand Day is to call for action against this practice, and support for children who are affected by it. Children have been used repeatedly as soldiers in recent years including armed conflicts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, Sudan, Côte d'Ivoire, Myanmar, Philippines, Colombia, and Palestine.[1] Estimates on the number of children engaging in armed conflict around the world show no change between 2006 and 2009.[2][3] Rehabilitation for child-soldiers returned to their communities ranges from inadequate to non-existent.[4]

Red Hand 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 entered into force on February 12, 2002.[5] This protocol was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in May 2000 and currently has signatures from over 100 different states. A number of international organizations are active against the use of children as soldiers. These organizations include, for example, the United Nations Child Fund (UNICEF), Amnesty International, Terre des Hommes or the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.

The work of these organizations can be summarized by the abbreviation DDR: Disarmament, Demobilization, Reintegration.

Child recruitment[]

The worldwide number of child soldiers is estimated to be 250,000 (as of 2009, roughly unchanged since 2006), a third of whom are girls, in at least 17 countries—including some who have ratified the treaty;[6][7] however it is difficult to know the correct number, as most of them are deployed in armed rebel groups.[citation needed]

The most important reason that armed groups or even some governments recruit children as soldiers is their diminished capability to distinguish between right and wrong, as well as between reality and an adventurous game. Up to a certain age, children don't have a full grasp of the finality of death and the severity of the act of killing a human being. They lack the ability to correctly identify dangers and to assess the risks of specific situations. Children are also easy to influence and be made to follow a specific cause.[citation needed]


The military use of children is addressed by a number of international legal norms. These include International human rights law and International humanitarian law. According to the Additional Protocols I and II to the Geneva Conventions, adopted in 1977, children who have not attained the age of 15 years shall neither be recruited in the armed forces or groups, nor allowed to take part in hostilities. For persons older than 15 but younger than 18 years, the State Parties to the Geneva Conventions shall endeavour to give priority to those who are oldest. The "Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict", adopted in 2000, stipulates that its State Parties shall take all feasible measures to ensure that persons below the age of 18 do not take a direct part in hostilities, and that they are not compulsorily recruited into their armed forces. In addition to these legal norms, The Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention of the International Labour Organization, adopted in 1999, includes forced or compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflict as one of the worst forms of child labour. In the context of this convention, the term "child" applies to all persons under the age of 18 years.

Red Hand Campaign[]

Since 2002, nations and regional coalitions from around the world have been holding events on 12 February.[8]


In 2008 children and teenagers initiated a campaign to collect as many red hand-prints as possible to present to the United Nations on Red Hand Day. The red hands were made on paper, banners and personal messages calling for an end to the use of child-soldiers. 7,000 red hands were collected in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo where child recruitment had increased dramatically. Former child soldiers from Guinea and Côte d'Ivoire sent messages pleading for rehabilitation and assistance for former child-soldiers. There were hundreds of events such as marches, petitions, school awareness programs, exhibitions and red hands were delivered to members of local congress and parliaments. Over 250,000 red hands were collected from youths of 101 countries around the world and presented to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a book at 5pm on 12 February 2009 in New York by former child-soldiers from Colombia and Côte d'Ivoire accompanied by young activists from Germany. Ban Ki-moon said it was an impressive effort and the UN is determined to stamp out such abuse.[9][10][11]

After child recruitment[]

Since 2008 Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia and Côte d'Ivoire have all been taken off the "black-list". The main focus on these children often remains with demobilising and disarming. Re-integrating children is an important part of peace but is expensive and requires work from whole communities.[12]


See also[]

External links[]

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