Now is the Time to Support Young Peacebuilders

By Dilshan Annaraj, Associate Director of Peacebuilding, World Vision International

600 million young people live in fragile and conflict-affected contexts. In many places, young people make up well over half the population. We have an unprecedented opportunity to harness youth efforts toward peace, but only if we combat myths and support the most effective peace actors.

A few international initiatives have recently highlighted the peace contributions of young people. The Sustainable Development Goals, comprehensive reviews of the UN’s peace architecture, the New Deal, the World Humanitarian Summit, and UN Security Council Resolution 2250 on Youth, Peace and Security have all shone a spotlight on youth peacebuilding.

These positive developments have overcome some large obstacles. One persistent argument depicts youth as a problem that needs to be solved, often by force. A second common approach is to view young people as hapless victims needing protection. The rapid global rise in violent extremism has resulted in ever more funding to the ‘troublemaker’ or ‘victim’ approaches, missing the power of a powerful and effective third way. Placing young people in these two categories is detrimental to the majority of young women, young men, boys, and girls who take incredible risks to pursue peaceful and just societies.

Evidence overwhelmingly shows the majority of young people do not participate in violence and many actively seek peace and positive change. The Global Evaluation of Children & Youth Participation in Peacebuilding, recently identified four key areas of sustained impact by young peacebuilders in Colombia, Nepal, and DR Congo:

• young peacebuilders often became more aware and active citizens for peace;
• young peacebuilders increased peaceful cohabitation and reduced discrimination;
• young peacebuilders reduced violence; and
• young peacebuilders increased support to vulnerable groups

The mounting evidence on the positive impact of young peacebuilders is now becoming a widely-shared list of best practices. The Guiding Principles on Young People’s Participation in Peacebuilding, and Young People’s Participation in Peacebuilding: A Practice Note detail the most commonly successful categories of youth peacebuilding work by UN, NGO, and academic partners. The UN Inter-Agency Network on Youth Development Working Group on Youth and Peacebuilding which developed these notes that, “Youth-led social and political movements, peacebuilding and conflict-prevention interventions…help build more peaceful societies and catalyse more democratic, inclusive governance.”

UN Security Council Resolution 2250 of December 2015, is a critical foundation to combat damaging stereotypes and point toward more effective peace programming. For the first time in its history, the UN Security Council unanimously acknowledged the positive role of young people in promoting and maintaining, sustainable, international peace. The resolution recognises the contributions youth and affirms the need to support, partner, and include them in decisions affecting them.

The international community is now at cross-roads. We can either listen to the young people who are voicing their desire to be heard and supported in their pursuit of peaceful, inclusive, just, and equitable societies, or we can continue to pigeonhole them into ineffective and incorrect stereotypes that only further victimise and marginalise. The evidence is massing toward the empowerment option, and our funding and programming must recognise follow. 600 million young people are counting on it and on us.