Each year on February 12, the International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers brings together and amplifies the voices of child rights experts and advocates in an effort to raise awareness about the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict. Also known as Red Hand Day, it coincides with the day the Optional Protocol on the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict (OPAC) entered into force in 2002, banning the participation of children under the age of 18 in hostilities. Sadly, thousands of children around the world are still used by armed forces and armed groups as soldiers, spies, porters, sexual slaves, and in other roles.

This year, Watchlist and its network designed and led a five-day social media campaign titled #RaiseYourRed with the aim to educate the broader public on Red Hand Day, why it is important, and challenges that remain to end recruitment and use of child soldiers. The #RaiseYourRed campaign was launched on February 8 and concluded on February 12, 2021, Red Hand Day. The campaign garnered significant participation from UN Member States, UN agencies, and civil society. Notably, the Permanent Mission of Jordan to the UN, who announced its endorsement of the Paris Commitments and Principles on Children Associated with Armed Forces or Armed Groups on Red Hand Day, used the hashtag #RaiseYourRed in its announcement on Twitter.

On the eve of Red Hand Day, Watchlist, together with Save the Children, War Child UK, and World Vision International, organized a virtual event to commemorate the International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers. Co-sponsored by the Permanent Missions of Germany, Niger, Norway, and the United Kingdom, the event highlighted key challenges for the effective reintegration of children formerly associated with armed forces and armed groups. In particular, the event focused on the criminalization of these children, the need for long-term, sustainable funding for comprehensive reintegration programming, and the importance of gender-sensitive reintegration programs to address individual needs. A prominent panel of speakers, including UN ambassadors, field experts, and an activist and former child soldier from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, provided powerful remarks. In total, the event hosted over 200 guests, including at least 20 Member States.

Watchlist continued its participation in Red Hand Day events on February 12, its director, Ms. Adrianne Lapar, spoke at a virtual international conference organized by its long-time partner, the Coalition against the Involvement of Boys, Girls, and Youth in the Colombian Armed Conflict (COALICO). Under the banner of “Stop! A Promise to Prevent Child Recruitment and Ensure Its Non-Repetition,” the event linked the obligations of the Government of Colombia under OPAC with its commitments under the peace agreement with the FARC-EP armed group. The conference convened Colombian Government officials, international experts, UN staff, and civil society, and featured panelists from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the Organization of American States’ mission in Colombia (MAPP/OAS), the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, the Mayor’s Office of Bogota, and international NGOs, such as the International Bureau for Children’s Rights (IBCR), Save the Children, and Watchlist.