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Red Hand Day – against the use of child soldiers worldwide

a child playing with a toy weapon

Red Hand Day - against the use of child soldiers worldwide, © David Baltzer arte/wdr

12.02.2022 - 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

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 and teenagers 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.

Concrete action: Protection from recruitment for children in Colombia

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.

For example, in Colombia, where perpetrators of violence are still recruiting minors for criminal purposes, especially in structurally weak regions, six years after the peace agreement was signed. In Buenaventura on the Pacific coast, the Federal Foreign Office is supporting the establishment of a local network whose task will be to prevent armed groups from recruiting children and young people. In the form of psychosocial counselling for families, awareness-raising in schools and, in individual cases, the temporary placement of individuals at risk in safe places, concrete action will be taken to protect children and young people from being recruited as soldiers.

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. 

Additional content

Thank you very much for organising this event to mark the International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers. I’m delighted that, despite the challenging circumstances created by the pandemic, so many…

Message from Minister of State Dr Tobias Lindner on Red Hand Day – the International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers

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