International Day Against the Use of Child Soldiers: What can be done

By Airianna Murdoch-Fyke

•	Today is International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers. This day aims to raise awareness about the thousands of children who have been recruited into ongoing or recent armed conflicts in almost every region of the world.February 12th is the International Day Against the Use of Child Soldiers. Around the world, children are associated with, and used during, armed conflict with devastating effects on both the child and society. A child associated with armed conflict is not limited to children who engage in the fighting, as children are often used by parties to a conflict as cooks, messengers, and/or for sexual purposes. Many armed groups specifically recruit or capture children because they are easy to physically and mentally control.

International Laws That Protect Children Associated with Armed Conflict

The recruitment of children into armed forces or armed groups is recognized as a serious issue and international laws have been created to stop this from happening. While much has been done to protect children from being used in the fighting, more efforts are needed.  
The Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols, a series of rules that apply in armed conflict, provide special protections to shield children from the effects of war. For example, Additional Protocol I and II and the Convention on the Rights of the Child prohibit children under the age of 15 from being recruited into armed forces or armed groups. The Geneva Conventions also protect children under 15 by providing them special protection.
The Optional Protocol to the Convention of the Rights of the Child is another important piece of international law that sets out to protect children associated with armed conflict. Under the Optional Protocol, States Parties must ensure that those under the age of 18 are not compulsorily recruited into their armed forces. Canada is a signatory to this Optional Protocol.
It is a war crime under international law to enlist, conscript, or use children under 15 actively in hostilities, whether it is in a conflict between states, or between armed groups and/or state forces.

What Can be Done

The use of children in armed conflict can be eliminated. It may seem beyond your control to help, however, there are practical steps that you as an individual can take to help reduce the use of children during times of armed conflict. First, stay informed. Every great change occurred because people cared and demanded action. Second, remain empathetic to those around you. Armed conflict does not just leave physical scars. Many with lived experience carry psychological wounds and we must remain compassionate to those around us. Finally, talk about it. There are many people around the world, including here in Canada, who do not realize the scale to which children continue to be associated with armed conflict and the threat this has on their lives and wellbeing. The more we talk about it, the more change there will be. 
Learn more about the Canadian Red Cross and its work on International Humanitarian Law, the body of wartime rules that limit and prevent human suffering in times of armed conflict. To learn more about what it is like for young people living in situations of armed conflict around the world, check out Forced to Fight. Forced to Fight, is an interactive, online resource, designed for teachers and students between 13-18 years old to help explain International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and humanitarian issues impacting children.

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