Yesterday (12 February) marked the International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers – also known as Red Hand Day, the day commemorates the fates of child soldiers, children who are forced to serve as soldiers in wars and armed conflicts. The objective 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 many recent armed conflicts, such as in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, Sudan, Côte d’Ivoire, Myanmar, Philippines, Colombia, and Palestine.
Federica Mogherini, chief of the EU diplomacy and the UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui, pledged to intensify their efforts to end the recruitment and the use of children in armed conflict. Both leaders commented that on the International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers, we jointly celebrate a growing global consensus among UN Member States that they should not recruit or use children in armed forces in conflict and that boys and girls should be protected from all grave violations.
“Child soldiers are always the victims: forced to combat, often brutally abused, and not rarely isolated when they finally manage to get back to their communities. I met Colombian boys and girls who have managed to quit the FARC’s guerrilla and are now looking at their future with hope,” said Federica Mogherini and added that “we have the duty to keep supporting them and all the former child soldiers, to give them the chance of a good education and of a place in their societies. At the same time, we will continue to bring forward our engagement in ending the recruitment and use of children by armed forces. Depriving a child of its rights is depriving a society of its future.”
“Armed groups have historically constituted the majority of child recruiters. Positive work and results with Member States – notably through the campaign ‘Children, Not Soldiers’ – are facilitating engagement with non-state actors and as a result, more and more are reaching out to the United Nations to end the recruitment and use and other grave violations against children,” stressed Leila Zerrougui. It is estimated that there were about 250,000 child soldiers as of 2009, a third of whom are girls, but it is difficult to estimate a more precise number as most of them are deployed in armed rebel groups. Although more than 115,000 child soldiers were released, for example, in Sudan as a result of advocacy and action plans, rehabilitation for child-soldiers returned to their communities is either inadequate or non-existent.