Youth in Conflict

Preventing violent conflict is imperative for development. While wars and violent confrontations are not new, the scale of violence perpetrated against civilians and the complexity of the emergencies occurring in the past couple of decades are unprecedented. During conflicts of such magnitude, masses of people are displaced after their homes and communities are destroyed, rapidly increasing the ranks of refugees and internally displaced persons throughout the world. Youth are often a targeted group during conflict. Young people’s participation in armed hostilities is facilitated through the trade of small arms and light weapons. The dearth of opportunities in their communities often leads them to gravitate towards violent conflict and acts of terrorism. Many are successfully mobilized through the ideologies of war. As victims and witnesses, they cannot help but be affected by the grim realities surrounding them. Traditional prevention mechanisms have proved top-heavy and ineffective in addressing the root causes of conflict and problems leading to the escalation of tensions. It is not surprising, then, that young people have taken on active roles and created youth networks to try to build peace and prevent outbreaks of violence. The new policies and approaches present major opportunities for progress. More importantly, the role of youth is now recognized as critical in creating long-term stability, producing effective outcomes within communities, and offering protection from future conflicts. Defining various field-specific terms will allow a clearer understanding of the material to be presented. Conflict occurs naturally and involves two or more parties with differing interests and perspectives. It takes place at personal levels (between family members and friends and even within oneself) and at formal levels (between politicians, diplomats and businesses). It can also act as a stimulus for addressing complaints. Young people today encounter greater and more unique challenges than ever before. During a crucial phase of their development, not only are they confronted with the biological and psychological growth processes that characterize youth and adolescence, but they must also grapple with formidable external pressures such as poverty, disease and violence. The eruption of war further compounds the adversities many face. Young people have much at stake, yet they have little say in the policies and activities that pertain to their lives. Creating jobs for youth, while vital, is not sufficient to produce a level of economic development and stability that will ensure peace. Economies are also affected by outside factors that threaten peace. The production and distribution of illicit drugs, tremendous in scope and highly profitable, often feed into armed conflicts. In many regions, the profits from trading in illicit drugs are used to fund fighting by insurgent and guerrilla groups. Violence is often employed to protect their business interests too. Armed conflict commonly refers to the use of manufactured weapons by different parties against one another, with at least one of the parties being the Government of a State. Early warning denotes “the systematic collection and analysis of information coming from areas of crises for the purpose of … anticipating the escalation of violent conflict; … the development of strategic responses to these crises; … and the presentation of options to critical actors for the purposes of decision-making.” Conflict prevention involves addressing “the structural sources of conflict in order to build a solid foundation for peace. Where those foundations are crumbling, conflict prevention attempts to reinforce them, usually in the form of a diplomatic initiative. Such preventive action is, by definition, a low-profile activity; when successful, it may even go unnoticed altogether.” Conflict transformation and conflict resolution work in conjunction with conflict prevention. While prevention entails maintaining peace before and after violence by correctly interpreting and acting upon early warning signs, conflict transformation involves shifting existing violence into constructive dialogue.