The United Nations designated today, August 12, to be International Youth Day as a means to recognize and draw attention to the struggles that youth around the world are facing. While youths are particularly susceptible to violence and often suffer the most, they are also the group that has proven time and time again that they can make a serious and positive impact through efforts to bring about peace. This generation of youth consists of about 1.8 billion people, the largest the world has seen, and they’re about to make history.
With more than 600 million living in conflict areas, youths have experienced some of the most negative effects of violence. Many others are forced to become refugees or displaced, often separating families from each other. Armed groups target young children due to their susceptibility towards radicalization, and thus the eventual rise in violent extremism. According to the UN, hundreds of thousands of youth are affiliated with different sorts of armed groups. This turns innocent children into child soldiers. About 90% of the casualties in direct conflicts are young males. Not only does this cause direct harm to youth, it also puts a halt on their education. Without an education, youths fall behind and this not only is a detriment to their own future success but threatens the stability and development of the communities in which they live.
However, today’s youth are also some of the strongest and most successful advocates for peace. One of our Pakistani partners, Aware Girls, has had great success in saving their peers from indoctrination and radicalization.
Their network consists of young volunteers dedicated to this task. Peace educators are sent out to teach youth about nonviolence, dissuading individuals from joining extremist groups, and encouraging peer-to-peer education to help prevent radicalization. Their level of commitment is displayed through their one-on-one sessions with young men and women that can last weeks until the radical thoughts are put to rest. They advocate equal rights, as well as access to “education, health, employment, governance, political processes, and social services” for young women and girls.
Their vision of a world with equal human rights for all is a lofty goal that they strive for every day. One of the founders that we work closely with, Saba, has expressed “As young peacebuilders, we want change very quickly and can’t wait ‘til we get old or die, we are impatient for peace. The time is now.”
Another partner of ours, Centre Resolution Conflits, is based in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. For 10 years, they’ve made efforts in rescuing, demobilizing, and reintegrating child soldiers. They help to build better relationships among communities and train people to live together peacefully.
One of the most important tasks that CRC takes on is direct communication with the militia groups. They not only negotiate the release of child soldiers but also convince the members to lay down their arms and either join the national army or find other means of income. They help to rehabilitate and reintegrate these members into society whenever possible. CRC also does extensive work with people who have been displaced and helping them back into their homes.
In December 2015 the UN had called upon its member states to put forward a new focus toward youth through Resolution 2250. It states that youths need to be represented in all types of decision-making regarding conflict including countering violent extremism, participation in peace practices, negotiations, and implementing peace agreements.
It encourages members to look out for the needs of the youth in times of rehabilitation, reintegration, and reconstruction. Members are also encouraged to implement initiatives and programs to help empower youth and enable them to make a difference.
The UN lays out the next steps that need to be taken in order to protect youth. It further plans to make recommendations regarding effective responses at the local, national, regional, and international levels based off of research focused on the positive impact of youth’s contribution to peace processes and conflict resolution. This matter is to remain active on the UN’s agenda. Countries should be aware of this Resolution and immediately begin to implement the strategies in order to make it real and effective.
Youth can be, and are, positive role models for society. As much as violence has knocked them down, they’ve stood back up. Today’s youth fight for a better tomorrow because they’re the ones who are forced to live in it. Now is the time to support their efforts and help build a more peaceful and just world for all generations to come.