Red Hand Day, or the International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers

Red Hand Day, or the International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers
MarkRademaker, via Adobe Stock


Tsedenia Gigar Getaneh 

Women’s Rights Researcher, 

Global Human Rights Defence.

  • Awareness and Action Against Child Soldier Recruitment 

Red Hand Day, also known as the International Day Against the Use of Child Soldiers, is observed annually on February 12th. This day is dedicated to raising awareness and prompting action to stop the recruitment and use of children below 18 by armed forces and groups. The date marks the anniversary of the adoption of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2000 and entered into force on February 12th, 2002. (Human Rights Watch, 2009)

Hundreds and thousands of handprints have been collected in more than 50 countries and handed over to politicians and to responsible parties, including UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. (

  • Global Efforts and Ongoing Challenges 

In 2022, the Secretary General’s annual report on Children and Armed Conflict (A/77/895/s/2023/363) revealed that 7,622 children were recruited and utilised by conflict parties, making it one of the most widespread severe violations against children in armed conflicts. The highest numbers were verified in the Syrian Arab Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, Mali, and Afghanistan. (Relief Web, Feb 12,2024)

Throughout 2023, the recruitment and utilisation of children by armed forces and groups persisted, with children being employed in various capacities, from spies and cooks to combatants and human shields. Regardless of their roles, these children face horrific brutality, significantly affecting their physical and mental health. Although boys continue to be targeted disproportionately, girls are also recruited and used by armed forces and subjected to sexual violence, including rape and sexual slavery. (Relief Web, Feb 12,2024)

  • Progress and the Path Forward 

Since the establishment of the Children and Armed Conflict mandate 28 years ago, over 200,000 children have been released from armed groups and forces, including through the United Nations. While this progress is commendable, much work remains. The scars of war leave lasting trauma on victims, who face stigmatisation and further victimisation upon returning to their communities. Prioritising the reintegration of these children is crucial for their well-being and the achievement of lasting peace and security. (UN, Feb 12, 2024)

The Special Representative has urged the international community to maintain its support for the comprehensive reintegration of children released from conflict zones, emphasising the need for programmes that are inclusive of disabilities and sensitive to gender and age. These programmes should provide access to education and health services, treating children primarily as victims, in accordance with international standards. (UN, Feb 12, 2024)

  • Educational Initiatives and Advocacy

In honour of this year's Red Hand Day, the Special Representative announced an online course titled the Children and Armed Conflict Primer. Developed by the Office of the Special Representative and the United Nations System Staff College with the financial backing of the Ministry for Foreign and European Affairs and Trade of Malta, this course builds upon the insights from the inaugural Virtual Summer School on Child Protection in Armed Conflict in 2022. (UN, Feb 12, 2024)

This initiative seeks to enhance understanding and engagement with the Children and Armed Conflict agenda, encouraging participants to apply this knowledge in their work and advocacy efforts. By doing so, it aims to further the cause of ending and preventing serious violations against children in conflict zones. The course, which is free and self-paced, is designed for a wide audience, including professionals from governments, the United Nations, regional bodies, civil society, and academia. (UN, Feb 12, 2024)

  • Conclusion: A Call to End Child Soldiering 

The use of child soldiers is a grave violation of children's rights, exposing them to extreme violence, exploitation, and abuse. Children involved in armed conflict lose their education, childhood, and, in many cases, their lives. International efforts, including those on Red Hand Day, focus on ending this practice, providing support for affected children, and holding perpetrators accountable.

As we move forward, it is imperative that we continue to amplify our efforts, advocate for the rights of the most vulnerable, and work tirelessly towards a future where no child is stripped of their innocence by the horrors of war. Red Hand Day not only serves as a reminder of the work that lies ahead but also as a beacon of hope for the realisation of a world where children are nurtured as the harbingers of peace, not soldiers in conflict. (Relief Web, Feb 12,2024)