“Do children and youth in high-conflict areas receive the support they need to lead others away from violent conflict?”

In the second post of our blog series entitled, “Ask the Experts,” Generations For Peace is joined by leading NGOs working with children and youth around the globe to answer a new question in honour of International Day of InnocentChildren Victims of Aggression.

Elizabeth Hume | Senior Director for Programs and Strategy at Alliance for Peacebuilding

Global levels of violence are at a 25-year peak, and 1.8 billion youth live in areas affected by conflict. Youth can be agents for positive change, but they need to be given the tools and skills to be peacebuilders. In conflict-affected countries, international donors support discrete youth conflict resolution programming, including NewGen Peacebuilders in Africa, which trains and equips students to understand the drivers of conflict and peace and how to resolve it. Other organzations do important work as well, like Afripeace, which implements the Peace Education Program in Nigeria’s Delta region, and Pact, which implemented peace education programs in Ethiopia at all 21 level Federal Universities.  There are countless examples of excellent youth peace education programs, but they are not systemic. Globally, peace-building education is missing from formal and informal educational frameworks that would give youth the skills and training they need to be able to build peace in their schools, communities, and countries.

Marc Salzmann | Founding Member and Executive Director at Early Care Intervention Program

The short answer is, no. Broadly speaking, children can lead their peers away from such environments through positive interactions with them. Being in the humanitarian context, however, can impede or threaten this. ECIP’s focus is on pre-school aged children (under five y.o.), and it’s clear that there is insufficient support for this age group. Support being focused on school-age kids/adolescents means that the youngest ones are sometimes indirectly neglected. This is dangerous because the most important period of human development is between birth and age five, and the younger the child the more vulnerable s/he is to traumatising events. However, the positive point is that very young children learn very quickly – meaning that potential trauma can be overcome effectively. If they receive sufficient support in these ages they will be able to help shield other children away from the effects that violent conflicts have on them thanks to more positive interactions.

Mark Clark | CEO at Generations For Peace

Children and youth are always amongst the most vulnerable to violence: suffering death, disabling injuries, sexual violence, psychological trauma, human trafficking, radicalisation and recruitment into violent extremist organisations, forced early marriage, displacement, extreme isolation, child labour, and lack of access to schooling and other public services.  Generations For Peace is working to transform conflict and reduce violence in diverse conflict settings in 19 countries around the world, providing safe spaces and innovative sport-for-peace and arts-for-peace activities to engage children and youth, to help them overcome trauma and build new relationships of trust, strengthening social capital and resilience, reducing violence and vulnerability. Sustainability and local ownership of our grass-roots work is achieved through training and mentoring adults and youth leaders belonging to strong existing community structures – schools, youth centres, sports clubs, CSOs – so that they can cascade positive values, knowledge and skills and lead measurable, sustainable impact in their own communities.

Katy Hughes | Education Project Manager at I AM YOU

Due to the unpredictable nature of conflict, support in such areas of conflict is usually sporadic and inconsistent, and focuses on immediate needs such as safety, shelter, and access to food. Once children are removed from conflict zones, there is more opportunity to offer support, which will aid them long-term and perhaps give them the tools they need to steer others away from violence in the future.

However, there are two main issues: resources and cohesion. Host countries such as Greece struggle to provide teachers and school placements, whilst NGOs are almost always underfunded. In addition, with so many actors in the field, there is often poor coordination between them, meaning that actors may end up competing rather than collaborating. Education and psychosocial support is thus delivered inefficiently and often without a long-term plan. This has a detrimental effect on the support given, even in cases where the resources are available.

Saji Prelis | Director, Children & Youth Programmes at Search for Common Ground

The Convention on the Rights of the Child gives hope to over a billion young people. Unfortunately, this hope is not as bright for millions experiencing armed conflict, as they are the furthest behind in receiving support. The support and fate of these children is in the hands of governments, conventions, international organizations, civil society actors, local communities, Child Protection Advisors and actors. The lucky ones that get released from armed groups receive psycho-social, reintegration, rehabilitation, and skills support through various actors. Others, a clear majority, who are living in conflict areas, receive less than adequate support. While it is critical to support them as victims of conflict, evidence also suggests that when children are engaged as partners in conflict prevention and peacebuilding efforts, young people are invaluable in creating more active and aware citizens for peace, increased peaceful cohabitationdecreased discriminationreduced violence, and increased support to vulnerable populations.

*Note: to avoid bias, responses are placed in alphabetical order of organisation name

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