The 25th anniversary of the children and armed conflict (CAAC) mandate in 2021 marked a milestone in protecting children from the harms of war. The anniversary also provided members of the CAAC community an opportunity to both celebrate the progress that has been made since the establishment of the CAAC mandate, but also to reflect on existing gaps and emerging challenges and look to the work ahead. The COVID-19 pandemic and the ever-expanding global counterterrorism agenda have further exacerbated children’s vulnerability to rights violations and abuse. More children are living in conflict zones today than at any time in the previous two decades. Therefore, whilst reflecting on the great success of the mandate is of importance, so too is a renewed commitment to create a brighter future for all children, especially those affected by war.

On January 18, 2022, the Permanent Mission of Norway and the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict (OSRSG-CAAC) co-hosted a virtual high-level event to launch the OSRSG-CAAC’s study on the evolution of the CAAC mandate. During the virtual launch event, Watchlist delivered a statement on behalf of its network. In its statement, whilst noting the invaluable progress the CAAC mandate has made to date, Watchlist calls on stakeholders to continue to build upon this progress in three key ways: defending and upholding existing protection frameworks; strengthening efforts to prevent conflict before it begins; and promoting accountability for and to children.

In February, Watchlist reiterated many of these messages through its #RaiseYourRed campaign. The five-day social media campaign culminated on February 12, the International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers. Also known as Red Hand Day, February 12 marks the anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child’s Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict (OPAC), which entered into force that day in 2002. OPAC banned the participation of children under the age of 18 in hostilities, marking an important milestone in the fight to end the use of child soldiers. Watchlist’s #RaiseYourRed campaign aimed to educate the broader public about the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict and to call on policymakers to take action to end and prevent this grave violation of children’s rights. The campaign focused on the significance of Red Hand Day, the 25th anniversary of the CAAC mandate, and recommendations for promoting protection, prevention, and accountability for children in armed conflict.