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Red Hand Day

Minister Müller on International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers: "Children need schools, not guns!"


Press release of 12.02.2021 |

BERLIN – On International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers, also known as Red Hand Day, on 12 February 2021, German Development Minister Gerd Müller said:

"A child soldier is a victim, not a perpetrator. These children need a way out, they need schools, not guns! According to UN estimates, as many as 250,000 children are forced into violence by armed groups. Many of them are also sexually abused. These children are subjected to the most criminal form of child labour. The COVID-19 crisis is now exacerbating the situation. According to UNESCO estimates 24 million children will not be able to return to school because of the impact of the pandemic and will have to work or are exploited in conflicts."

"The situation is especially dire in Nigeria, where children are forcibly recruited by Boko Haram terrorists," Müller said. "Over two million people have been displaced by the horrors of Boko Haram. Children are also forced to serve as soldiers in conflict regions in Central and East Africa and in Yemen and Syria. They are often left to suffer the emotional and physical consequences for the rest of their lives. We must give these children back a chance to education and to a normal life. And we must work to reduce hunger, poverty and thus the root causes of violence and displacement. Because the recruitment of many children is driven by hardship and misery. I have spoken to ex-Boko Haram fighters in northern Nigeria. They were promised a pay of one dollar per day, food and a gun. Had they had a job, they would not have become involved."

The German Development Ministry (BMZ) is supporting programmes that help former child soldiers find their way back to normal life. The BMZ is, for instance, providing support for the demobilisation and reintegration programmes under way in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and in Sierra Leone. Former child soldiers are given vocational training to help them return to civilian life. In Liberia, Cameroon and Burundi former child soldiers receive psychosocial care and are taught how to resolve conflicts without violence.

The German Development Ministry is also cooperating closely with the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) to reintegrate child soldiers.

On 12 February 2002, the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child regarding the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict entered into force. Since then the "red hands" have been used as the symbol for public protest against the use of children as soldiers. It was agreed in the Optional Protocol that children under the age of 18 cannot be conscripted into the armed forces. The recruitment of individuals under the age of 15 is listed as a war crime in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, such activities can therefore be pursued through the ICC.

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