Human Rights Watch reports that children currently are used as soldiers fighting in at least 14 countries around the world. They note that “Boys and girls alike are forced into combat, exploited for their labor, and subjected to unspeakable violence.” Girls are often victims of sexual exploitation.
An optional protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child has forbidden the use of children under age 18 as soldiers since February 12, 2002. However, too many countries have failed to ratify the treaty; too often it goes unenforced.
In 2009, the Red Hand Campaign, initiated by youth and students around the world, called for strong action to end the use of children as soldiers. Over 250,000 red hands were presented to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in New York on February 12, 2009. The Secretary-General pledged that the entire UN system would work to address the situation.This year, the Red Hand Campaign calls for universal ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict. This treaty prohibits the use of children under age 18 in hostilities or their forced recruitment. Since it was opened for ratification, 131 governments, two-thirds of the world’s countries, have done so. However, 61 countries have not ratified the optional protocol.
The Red Hand Campaign will focus on these countries and urge them to ratify the optional protocol and make clear their commitment to ending the use of child soldiers. The goal is for every country in the world to ratify the optional protocol by 2012, the tenth anniversary of when it took effect.
To take part in the Red Hand Campaign:
- Create red hand prints on paper (using finger paint, drawing an outline, using red paper, or in some other way) and then add their names, hometowns, and a message.
- Send your red hands to the United Nations missions in New York of the countries that have not yet ratified the optional protocol. Include a message urging them to do so as soon as possible
- Presbyterians may send red hands to Office of Child Advocacy, 100 Witherspoon Street, Room 3224, Louisville, KY 40202-1396. The Presbyterian United Nations Office will deliver the red hands to the UN missions.
- Share your activities! Email the Red Hand Campaign to tell how many red hands you collected and how many United Nations missions you contacted. Presbyterians may share stories with the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program.
May 25 is the anniversary of the day the Optional Protocol was first adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2000. May 25, 2010 is the tenth anniversary of the optional protocol's adoption, and a great opportunity for awareness-raising on child soldiers.
The Presbyterian Church's Office of Child Advocacy, the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program and the Presbyterian United Nations Office are partnering to work on ending the use of child soldiers. Opportunities to create red hands were provided at 2009 APCE and at the Big Tent.