International Day Against Use of Child Soldiers: NPWJ stresses the urgency to address this human rights violation

Brussels-Rome, 12 February 2021


 
On the occasion of the International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers, also known as the Red Hand Day, No Peace Without Justice (NPWJ) draws the attention to one of the most abhorrent violation of human rights, namely the conscription, enlistment or use of children in conflicts. This day is a powerful reminder that children, still to this day, are disproportionately affected by conflict and are denied their innocence and childhood. NPWJ takes this opportunity to stress two things that can be overlooked. First, “consent” is not a defence: the conscription, enlistment or use of children in armed conflict is a crime under all circumstances. Second, it is important to bear in mind that the use of children in conflict goes beyond their use on the front lines, and extends to their use as cooks, messengers, for sexual purposes and for other purposes.
 
Despite the international prohibition on the use of children in conflict under international law – such as in the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols and The Optional Protocol to the Convention of the Rights of the Child – they are still being used as dispensable fuel of war, especially in armed groups. In that process, thousands of children are torn away from their families and communities, shattering their lives and their futures, denied basic human rights including access to a quality education and health care. Children are being unlawfully detained and denied reintegration programs, which in most cases means a second wave of human rights violation for them. The international community must ensure the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration of child soldiers and other recruits. Abandoning them to their fate after removing them from conflict is a second victimisation. NPWJ remains strongly committed to not only prevent the recruitment or use of children in conflict, but also calls for the release of these children and their appropriate reintegration.
 
Furthermore, the Covid-19 crisis exacerbated the vulnerability of children and has put them at greater risk of recruitment. Poverty and lack of access to education resulting from the pandemic make them targets for armed groups. NPWJ stresses the urgency of this issue and the need to address the use of children with greater scrutiny given these challenging times.
 
The international community has the responsibility to ensure change, including that all children stay free from violence and have access to education. While this international community has worked to prevent and raise awareness on this issue, is it not enough: we must actively act to protect these children and their rights.
 
NPWJ takes this opportunity to appeal to all parties of conflicts to meet their obligations under international law regarding the use of children in conflict. We also call on all States who have not raised the age on the prohibition of enlistment and recruitment to 18 to do so without delay and ensure that the conscription, enlistment of use of children in armed conflict is a criminal offence that can be prosecuted, and is prosecuted, in their domestic legal systems.
 

  • For further information, contact Alison Smith, International Justice Director, on asmith@npwj.org or Nicola Giovannini, Press & Public Affairs Coordinator, on ngiovannini@npwj.org org.