Today, on February 12th, 2023, the world is marking Red Hand Day as an annual reminder to stand up and act against the exploitation of children as soldiers.
On the International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers, Coalition for Just Reparations (C4JR) reiterates that children don’t belong in armed conflicts. Still, in kindergartens and schools, they don’t need weapons but pencils and books. They don’t need to be taught how to kill but taught how to live. The use of child soldiers is prohibited under international law as well as the use of children in any capacity to support the war effort of armed groups.
Since 12 February 2002, an Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child has prohibited the abuse of children and teenagers under the age of 18 as child soldiers. Today, it is estimated that there are still at least 250,000 minors who armed groups have recruited.
In the context of the ISIL-created conflict in Iraq, many children have been recruited, indoctrinated, manipulated and exploited ever since its formation ISIL relied heavily on the recruitment of children. Yazidi [Female] Survivors Law (YSL), a landmark legislation that specifies several essential services and benefits for women belonging to ethnoreligious communities ISIL targeted, recognized abducted and released Yazidi boys as a separate category of survivors, eligible to claim and receive concrete reparative measures guaranteed under this law. These include monthly salary, rehabilitation services, jobs, land, housing but also educational opportunities.
At this symbolic day, we want to emphasize that, in addition to prevention, one needs to work on redress and justice as a foundation for a peaceful future. Children harmed and misused in ISIL conflict are not going to blend in or go away. They need understanding, support and opportunities to realize their life plans. This support should be shaped as a formal national reintegration program for children recruited and exploited by ISIL. A first step towards that end must be delivering on YSL´s promises swiftly and properly.
Therefore, on this Red Hand Day, C4JR is calling the Government of Iraq, Kurdistan Regional Government and other relevant stakeholders to prioritize YSL implementation and, in doing so, employ a child rights-based, survivor-centered, gender and culturally sensitive approach.