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Red Hand Day – against the use of child soldiers worldwide

Children in military uniform holding dummy rifles

Child soldiers in Zimbabwe, © EPA

12.02.2018 - Article

Some 250,000 children are being abused as soldiers around the world. Today’s International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers (Red Hand Day) is drawing attention to their plight. Germany is working with great determination to protect the rights of children and children in armed conflicts

Children are forced to engage in combat

pieces of paper with red handprints hang on a washing line
On 12 February, Red Hand Day provides a reminder of the fate of child soldiers© Federal Foreign Office / Permanent Representation New York

In almost all armed conflicts, children and young people are abused as soldiers and forced to engage in conflict, particularly in crisis areas in African and Asian countries. Children are kidnapped or lured with false promises and then trained to kill. They are also often used as messengers, spies or porters. They have to set up explosive devices and learn to handle weapons.

These are traumatic experiences for the children. They are left with psychological and physical scars, which often remain with them for the rest of their lives. Many girls are also recruited by force, many of them then becoming victims of sexual violence. If they manage to escape their torturers, the children are often stigmatised by their friends and families and sometimes excluded from their families.

Use of child soldiers prohibited under international law

The use of child soldiers is prohibited under international law. Since 12 February 2002, an Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child has prohibited the abuse of children under the age of 18 as child soldiers. Germany ratified the Optional Protocol in 2004. Today, it is estimated that there are still at least 250,000 minors who have been recruited to armed groups.

Nepal: Re-integration of former child soldiers

Germany is involved in numerous projects to improve the protection of children’s rights and is working with great determination to drive forward the implementation of the UN Optional Protocol. In Nepal, the Federal Foreign Office is for example supporting a project to reintegrate former child soldiers. The young people are given psychological support and assistance in reintegrating into civilian life, for example through vocational training. Furthermore, judges, politicians as well as representatives from the media and business are made more aware of the particular problems experienced by former child soldiers. It is important here to see the children not as perpetrators but as victims.

UN Security Council: Anchoring child protection in peace missions

a boy stands on a street wielding a rifle
Robbed of their childhood: child soldiers in action© picture alliance/AFP

Also during its membership of the UN Security Council (2019-2020), Germany was at the forefront of efforts to protect children in armed conflicts. The focus here was on United Nations peace missions. Germany is pressing for the topic of child protection to be anchored in new missions from the very outset and for missions to be equipped with child protection commissioners and human rights experts.

Further development of the Handover Protocols

In a further project, the Federal Foreign Office recently supported the further development of the instrument known as the Handover Protocols. Through these Protocols, Governments commit to releasing children as quickly and safely as possible from prison if they are arrested as a result of involvement in armed conflicts. They should then be placed in the care of civilian authorities and child protection commissioners to enable them to reintegrate into Society. 

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