Today, child soldiers are fighting in at least 14 countries around the world. Boys and girls alike are forced into combat, exploited for their labor, and subjected to unspeakable violence.  A UN treaty prohibits the participation of children under the age of 18 in hostilities. But too often, it is not enforced, and many countries have not yet ratified it.

In 2009, hundreds of youth and student groups from around the world called for stronger action to end the use of child soldiers. They gathered over 250,000 "red hands"-the symbol of the global campaign against the use of child soldiers-and presented them to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in New York on February 12, 2009.  In response, the Secretary-General pledged that the entire UN system would work to "stamp out" such abuse.

This year, the Red Hand Campaign is pressing for universal ratification of the treaty banning the use of child soldiers.  The treaty, known as the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, prohibits the use of children under age 18 in hostilities or their forced recruitment. Since it was adopted ten years ago, 131 governments-two-thirds of the world's countries- have ratified it.

However, 61 countries have still not ratified the optional protocol. The Red Hand Day Campaign will urge these countries to ratify the optional protocol and make clear their absolute commitment to ending the use of child soldiers.  Our goal is for every country in the world to ratify the optional protocol by 2012, the tenth anniversary of when the optional protocol took effect.

About Red Hand Day 2009:

In 2009 over 250,000 red hands were collected from at least 101 countries to demand stronger action by international leaders to end the use of child soldiers.  Young people organized hundreds of events in dozens of countries to highlight the continued use of child soldiers. These activities included marches, petition drives, special exhibitions, public awareness programs at schools, and presentations of red hands to members of congress and parliament.

Red Hand Day Campaign activities took place in: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Cambodia, Canada, China, Colombia, Cote d'Ivoire, DRC, France, Germany, Guinea, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxemburg, Madagascar, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Philippines, Poland, Sierra Leone, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, Uganda, United Kingdom and the United States.

On February 12, 2009, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon accepted the red hands, pledging to "stamp out" the use of child soldiers. UN officials and representatives from almost 50 governments attended the ceremony and many of them signed their own red hands to pledge their support to the Red Hand Day Campaign.

How to Take Part:

Participating in the Red Hand Day Campaign requires only three easy steps:

1)   Use red paint to make a handprint on a sheet of paper, and add a personal message about your desire to end the use of child soldiers; organize others at your school or in your community to do the same.

2)   Send your red hands to the United Nations missions in New York of the countries that have not yet ratified the optional protocol. Include a message urging them to do so as soon as possible. A sample message and list of addresses is at the end of this resource pack.

3)    Share your activities! Upload photos or videos of your event to http://www.redhandday.org/ and send an email to redhandday@hrw.org to let us know how many red hands you collected and how many United Nations missions you contacted.

Consider holding special events on the following dates:

February 12 is considered "Red Hand Day."  The treaty banning the use of child soldiers (the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict) entered into force on February 12, 2002. Since then, many groups have organized local events on February 12 using the red hand to raise awareness about the child soldier issue.

May 25 is the anniversary of the day the Optional Protocol was first adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2000. May 25, 2010 is the tenth anniversary of the optional protocol's adoption, and a great opportunity for awareness-raising on child soldiers.