February 12, 2013 marks the eleventh anniversary of the entry into force of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict.
UNICEF estimates that more than 300,000 children – boys and girls under the age of 18 – are involved in armed conflicts around the world. These children are often referred to as child soldiers. UNICEF defines a ‘child soldier’ as any child who is part of any armed force or armed group in any capacity, including as cooks, porters, or girls and boys recruited or abducted for sexual exploitation. The definition does not only refer to a child who is carrying, or has carried, weapons.
The experiences of children and youth in war are a clear example of how violence denies children their right to an abundant life and spiritual well-being. Where Jesus welcomes and blesses the children, children in situations of armed conflict are too often exploited and violated.
The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict seeks to address this situation. The Protocol has been ratified by most member states of the United Nations, including the United States. However, some 40 UN member states have yet to ratify this important treaty.
Does ratifying a treaty mean that a State will automatically enforce its provisions? Of course not. But it establishes an international standard. It makes possible prosecution of those who violate the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child or the Optional Protocol in the International Criminal Court.
Vibrant painted and drawn “Red Hands” gathered from Presbyterian churches all over the country affirm that children have the right to be children, not soldiers. These hands support the international Red Hand Campaign that calls for universal ratification and enforcement of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on The Rights of the Child on the involvement of Children in Armed Conflict. Since Presbyterians became involved in the Red Hands Campaign in 2009, 24 States have ratified the Optional Protocol. The consensus is building! Join the Presbyterian Child Advocacy Office, Presbyterian Peacemaking Program and the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations in saying “no” to the use of children as soldiers.
By making and sharing Red Hands, we join Jesus with the message that children are to be welcomed and blessed as children, not used and exploited as soldiers.
Find worship resources, ideas for participating in the Red Hand Campaign, and suggestions for further study for this occasion. They may be used on any appropriate day.