Jen Banbury is on the editorial team at the U.S. Fund. Today, February 12 is Red Hand Day–a day to support and commemorate children who serve or have served in armed conflict.
This is a picture of a 13-year-old boy from the Democratic Republic of the Congo named Mwindo (not his real name). Like many thousands of children in war-torn countries around the globe, Mwindo was pressed into becoming a child soldier when he was nothing more than a kid. He was taught to use weapons, was given an Uzi to carry and was expected to fight.
|© UNICEF/DRC/Roger LeMoyne|
Mwindo, 13, a former child soldier in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
During a confrontation with other insurgents, when a man lunged to attack him, Mwindo shot and killed the man. Two of Mwindo’s friends–boys like him–died in that battle, too, and were buried in the forest. All told, Mwindo spent three years in the militia.
The picture was taken after Mwindo escaped the militia and reached a UNICEF-supported Centre de Transit et Orientation (CTO) in the eastern town of Goma. CTOs act as shelters for former child soldiers–safe places where they can get medical treatment, counseling and help finding their families. Best of all, CTOs are places where child soldiers have the chance to just be children again.
It’s horrific to think what child soldiers go through–the violence, brutality and death. UNICEF is working hard on behalf of these boys and girls. We’re working to help them leave armed groups and recover from all they’ve experienced. But we’re also working with governments to keep children from being recruited in the first place.
|© UNICEF/Chad/Olivier Asselin|
At a UNICEF-supported Centre de Transit et Orientation (CTO) in Chad, a former child soldier shows his drawing of an armed military vehicle.
And there is progress.
In July 2010, the Government of Chad hosted a regional conference with six Central African countries–Chad, the Central African Republic, Sudan, Nigeria, Niger and Cameroon–to end the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict. At the end of the conference, all the countries present signed something called the N’Djamena Declaration, which promises their commitment to international standards for the protection of children.
But there’s a long way to go. By some estimates, there are currently 250,000 child soldiers worldwide.
February 12 is Red Hand Day–a day to support and commemorate children who serve or have served in armed conflict. More than anything, Red Hand Day is a call to action to stop this awful practice. The more attention we can draw to the plight of child soldiers, the better chance we have to stop child recruitment for good.