Adding to the Priority List: Youth and Children in Post Conflict Settings

21 Oct

The past few weeks have been very busy for the new youth delegates along with organizations and networks working together to push the youth agenda forward. Several country missions have been organizing back-to-back side events for youth led organizations and youth delegates to get acquainted with each other. Recently, the Mission of Switzerland to the UN organized a meeting on ‘Children and Youth in post conflict settings’; a topic often neglected while discussing the youth agenda. The panel members consisted of Mr. Ishmael Beah, best-selling author of ‘A Long Way Gone, Memories of a Boy Soldier’; Ms. Saudamini Siegrist, Chief of Child Protection at UNICEF; Ms. Rosalie Azar, Political Program officer at the Office of the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict; and Ms. Subashini Perumal, focal point for the Youth and Women, Peace and Security Program of the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP). Mr. Paul Seger, Permanent Representative of Switzerland to the UN delivering the opening remarks at 8:30 am. The event also welcomed Deputy Permanent Rep. of Rwanda, Ms. Jeanne d’Arc Byaje sitting in the audience among other youth delegates.

Ms. Azar’s speech revolved around the technicalities of the UN and the urgent need to protect children and youth. Ms. Siegrist repeatedly emphasized on the need for providing education to those affected by war, since it is largely through education that youth can have a positive impact on post conflict settings. The key words of her speech were ‘accountability’ and ‘reconciliation’. Ms. Perumal shared her expertise on the role of women in post conflict settings, alongside promoting the “Youth for Peace” project started by GNWP.

Despite the sharing of considerable insight on these important issues, the panelists focused mostly on their individual agendas and failed to provide a common pattern that could better promote the main objective of the meeting – Children and Youth in Post Conflict Settings. The panel member who most effectively gathered all the scattered focal point together was Mr. Beah who shared his experience as a boy solider during the war in Sierra Leone and provided his feedback on some of the suggested policy recommendations.

“Youth are agents of peace; we need to provide education and economic justice to young people and children in post conflict settings. Only though this can youth and children contribute to a positive reconstruction process,” said Ms. Siegrist.

While Ms. Siegrist was making a valid point for bringing up the topic of the role of youth in post conflict reconstruction, her statement appeared to be just a bit sentimental. The young population does have the potential to impact society, but both positively and negatively. On the one hand youth gangs in South Africa continue to destabilize the country and young people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo continue to recruit other youth to fight in armed forces. On the other hand former youth combatants in Mozambique and Kosovo have contributed to community reconciliation and development projects. Furthermore, youth groups in Belfast have worked with local peace building organizations to promote social development in their communities. Providing primary and secondary education remains one of the highest priorities. However, in reference to the young people in post conflict areas, the impact of this priority needs to be carefully evaluated. Youth and children in conflict zones are often badly victimized by trauma; taking that into consideration is it rational to assume that they are motivated enough to receive and accept policy advice from outsiders after having lost everything they had ever known? Furthermore, after completing their education would there be a platform for them to execute those skills? If not, was schooling worth the trouble?

As Mr. Beah put it, “there is a remarkable level of intelligence needed to survive a war but no one gives us credit for that, instead they (international community) offer us two things – a program that ‘they’ thought of without asking us and the second thing is, pity.” During his 15 minute speech, Mr. Beah touched on various important points, for example, the need to reintroduce the idea of leadership, the blurry line between post-conflict and ‘on going’ conflict, and the need to be ‘aggressive’ for change in our thoughts and actions. He ended his speech with a thought provoking statement, “talent is universal, opportunity is not. What makes you delegates different from youth in conflict zones is that you had the opportunity to be here and they did not” – a statement that led to instant recognition and a loud round of applause for Mr. Beah and the other panel members.

As the ball gets rolling in the Third Committee of the UNGA where social development and youth issues are now being discussed, youth delegates have the opportunity to deepen their consideration of these thematic issues while helping to draft a youth-oriented resolution. GAPW will closely scrutinize this process and will regularly engage our audience in this space regarding issues affecting youth participation in global policy.

Kritika Seth, Youth Outreach

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