On February 12, 2002, the U.N. Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict came into force. It prohibits the recruitment or use of children under 18 as soldiers. Still, the number of child soldiers has remained constant.
So, in 2009, young people around the world decided to take the matter into their own hands — literally. They gathered over 250,000 painted “red hands” and presented them to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a call for stronger action. He then pledged to do everything in his power to stamp out “one of the most appalling human rights abuses in the world today.”
There are an estimated 300,000 child soldiers, some as young as 10, involved in 23 conflicts around the world, according to the United Nations. Forty percent of them are girls, often subjected to rape and abuse. If they are allowed to return home, child soldiers can face difficulties integrating back into their communities.
UNICEF defines a child soldier as anyone under 18 who is part of any kind of armed force or group, including combatants, cooks, porters, messengers and those recruited for forced sexual services or forced marriages.
In the United States, the Child Soldier Prevention Act aims to deter the use of children as soldiers by barring military aid to nations that do. Last year, the United Nations launched the Children, Not Soldiers initiative to end the recruitment and use of child soldiers by 2016.
February 12 is Red Hand Day. Join the campaign against the use of child soldiers by using red paint to make a handprint and sending it to the U.N. mission of a country that has not yet ratified the Optional Protocol.
You can also take a photo of yourself with the hashtag #CHILDRENnotsoldiers and share it on Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr or Facebook.