On February 12, former child soldiers and other youth representing a grassroots campaign from around the world will present thousands of symbolic "red hands" to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to demand stronger action by international leaders to end the use of child soldiers.
A UN treaty prohibiting the forced recruitment or use of children under the age of 18 in armed conflict, the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, has been ratified by 126 countries and entered into force on February 12, 2002, a date commemorated annually as "Red Hand Day."
But child soldiers are still being used in at least 15 countries or territories, including some that have ratified the treaty.
According to the organizers of the campaign, members of the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers (CSC), young people from around the world have joined forces to express their outrage that children are still used to fight wars. According to the CSC statement, young people want a stronger commitment from world leaders to end this practice.
Young people and others from 101 countries have collected more than 250,000 "red hands" – the symbol of international efforts to end the use of child soldiers – as part of a global "Red Hand Day" campaign. They have made red handprints on paper and banners and inscribed personal messages calling for an end to the use of child soldiers.
In the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where child recruitment has increased dramatically since hostilities escalated in August 2008, children in Uvira and Goma collected over 7,000 red hands. Red hands created by former child soldiers in Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire included messages calling for rehabilitation and reintegration assistance for former child soldiers.
Young people have organized hundreds of events, including marches, petition drives, special exhibitions, public awareness programs at their schools, and other activities to highlight the continued use of child soldiers. Some have delivered red hands to their members of congress or parliament.
Former child soldiers from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Colombia, and youth activists from Germany and the United States will present red hands to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at 5 p.m. Feb 12, at UNICEF headquarters in New York. On behalf of the campaign, they are calling for:
- Stronger UN action against governments and armed groups using child soldiers, including Security Council arms embargoes and other sanctions against persistent violators;
- Prosecution of military leaders who recruit or use child soldiers;
- Universal ratification and enforcement of the optional protocol; and Increased support for the rehabilitation and reintegration of former child soldiers.
Currently, child soldiers are fighting in at least 15 countries and territories, including: Afghanistan, Burma, Central African Republic, Chad, Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), India, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Thailand, and Uganda. Eight governments – including Burma, Chad, DRC, Sri Lanka, Sudan, and Uganda – have signed the treaty, but still use children in their armed forces or support armed groups that recruit children in their territories or neighbouring states.
As well as being a Steering Committee member of the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, Jesuit Refugee Service manages projects specifically for former child soldiers in Chad and Democratic Republic of Congo. Many other JRS projects on education, health, housing also cater for former child soldiers or focus on preventing children from becoming involved in armed conflicts, for instance in Colombia and Venezuela.
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