As the world observes an increase in conflicts across the globe, the use of child soldiers remains a reality on this day February 12. From the ongoing conflicts in Ukraine and in the Gaza Strip, to the escalating violence following Afghanistan’s political upheaval after Taliban’s takeover, the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic further destabilise regions like Yemen, amplifying the risk of conflict. In Somalia, conflict-related deaths have reached a five-year high, while many other countries struggle with prolonged crises that are frequently disregarded by the international community. Amidst this turmoil, the most vulnerable suffer the gravest injustices. Boys and girls are coerced into combat, exploited for labour, and subjected to unimaginable horrors. Despite a UN treaty prohibiting the involvement of children under 18 in hostilities, there has been a lack of enforcement from the international community.
Children continue to be embroiled in armed conflicts across numerous nations. Their lives are characterised by peril, deprivation, and fear. Stripped of their innocence, they face the constant threat of ambushes, landmines, and gunfire, their existence devoid of basic necessities like food, water, and healthcare. Subjected to brutal discipline, many children perish under inhumane conditions, while others survive with lifelong physical or psychological scars, with girls, comprising a significant portion of child soldiers, endure additional horrors, including sexual violence and exploitation. The reality is that children are robbed of their childhoods, and forced into roles no child should ever have to bear.
Hence, the Red Hand Day, or the International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers campaign is a rallying call for action: urging governments, organisations, individuals, and the international community to confront this reality and provoke change. The history of Red Hand Day traces back to February 12, 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. This protocol, also known as the “Paris Principles,” reaffirmed the international community’s stance against the recruitment and use of children in armed conflicti. The protocol established 18 as the minimum age for compulsory recruitment and participation in hostilities, with the aim of shielding children from the horrors of war and ensuring their access to education, health, and a safe environmentii.
At Broken Chalk, we stand in solidarity with the global community on Red Hand Day. We believe that every child, regardless of their circumstances, deserves equal access to quality education in a safe environment. Red Hand Day serves as a reminder of the ongoing challenges faced by more than 7622 children who are recruited as soldiers and deprived of their fundamental right to education (as estimated in a 2022 Annual Reportiii of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict to the UN General Assembly).
As we commemorate Red Hand Day, Broken Chalk is committed to advocating for policies and initiatives that prioritise the end of recruitment and use of children in armed conflict to fully implement the Paris Commitment. Moreover, we advocate for the protection, safety, financial support, peaceful education, reintegration, and support of children affected by armed conflict, ensuring that they can learn, grow, and thrive. Nevertheless, more actions need to be taken to hold accountable those who are responsible, in compliance with international humanitarian law, specifically the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Together, we can work towards a world where the red hands of child soldiers are replaced with books and pens, symbolising hope, resilience, and the promise of a brighter future.
Broken Chalk announces it to the public with due respect.
i Human Rights Watch (n.d.). The Red Hand Day Campaign One million red hands against the use of child soldiers RESOURCE PACK. Available at https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/related_material/childsoldierresource.pdf
iii Children and armed conflict (2023, June 27). Report of the Secretary-General. Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict. Available at https://childrenandarmedconflict.un.org/document/secretary-general-annual-report-on-children-and-armed-conflict-2/