THE POWER OF YOUTH TO BUILD LASTING PEACE“The period 15 to 25 years is the golden period of life, which has been defined as youth. This is where the seeds of peace must be sown vigorously.”
- Motilal Sharma, Asian Development Bank
In the last decade, wars have left 2 million children dead, 5 million disabled, and 12 million homeless. In every part of the globe, youth are the innocent victims of violent conflict. They are often targeted to become soldiers in war, are denied access to education and heath care, and are forced to relocate, or to become refugees as they flee to a foreign country. Approximately 90% of all casualties in armed conflict are civilians and more than half of these are children. Youth often experience physical violence to their person, are faced with the devastation and grief that accompanies the death of their friends, family, and loved ones and they may even lose their own lives in conflicts not their own.
In spite of their deep physical and psychological wounds, a large number of war-affected youth continue to believe that forgiveness, reconciliation, and understanding are the means to a peaceful and bright future, and use their power and creativity to bring hope, justice, and tolerance into the world.
The United Nations has proclaimed that 2001-2010 is “The International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-violence for the Children of the World.” This ten-year span will be devoted to continuously promoting and realizing a culture of peace locally, nationally, and internationally.
Child head of households keep their family together in Ethiopia
It is also estimated that there are 14 million children under the age of 15 orphaned by AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa, with 750,000 orphans in Ethiopia alone. In this country, the HIV/AIDS prevalence rate in urban areas is more than 13%. More than 50% of the people living with HIV become infected before the age of 25. By age 35 these people have developed full-blown AIDS, and many will have died. Just imagine being a twelve or thirteen year-old who is the eldest child in a family. Both of your parents die from AIDS, and you are suddenly thrust into the role of a child-head of household. There is nobody there to take care of you anymore, and you suddenly have to take responsibility for feeding, clothing, supporting and caring for your younger siblings. However, in a show of outstanding courage and solidarity, youth throughout Africa have accepted these grim circumstances and truly risen to the challenge, taking on the main responsibility for their families.
Many organizations around the world are beginning to recognize the intense challenges AIDS orphans are facing, and are working to empower them by providing them with employable skills, education, and health care so that they may have the means to provide for themselves and their siblings in the future. War Child Canada with its Ethiopian national partner, People 2 People, are supporting the Ethiopian AIDS Orphans Development Program to provide 300 AIDS orphans with basic necessities including food and shelter, as well as access to education, skills training, psychosocial rehabilitation and HIV/AIDS prevention and awareness. Child-heads of households, most of whom are females, are provided with vocational training and their younger siblings are provided with the necessary resources to gain access to an education.
AIDS orphans are participating in peer support groups, building leadership skills and self-confidence, and sharing their knowledge of HIV/AIDS issues with their communities. This is yet another example of the incredible power youth can have when they dedicate themselves to peacebuilding and create support networks for both one another and their entire communities.
Prevailing Youth Involvement in Southern Sudan
Twenty years of civil war has left Southern Sudan devastated, and an estimated 1.5 million people dead. The conflict has resulted in widespread destruction of community infrastructure, mass displacement of civilians and gross human rights abuses.
Youth have been severely affected by the conflict - forcibly recruited into fighting forces, displaced from their communities, and denied education and
employment opportunities. At the same time, young people are getting involved in the communities and working to bring about positive change, rehabilitation and development. It is crucial at this important juncture in Sudan’s history to strengthen the capacity of youth organizations to participate in the restoration of their society, to function as leaders in the peacebuilding process, and to make concrete, practical contributions to the realization of young people’s rights.
The South Sudan Youth Participation Agency (SSYPA) is working to promote effective and meaningful youth involvement through the development of the communities that have been so severely torn apart by the devastation of war. This Agency is a network of 47 youth organizations in southern Sudan and is currently working to facilitates greater collaboration among its member organizations. These efforts will allow numerous youth groups in southern Sudan to increase their capacities, leading to increased participation at the community level in a wide range of development initiatives.
Despite the unfortunate circumstances that youth living in countries torn apart by war have been presented with, they still have hope. They have demonstrated great passion, commitment, knowledge and dedication to rebuilding their communities and creating new opportunities for their families.
Want to Find Out More?
1. Youth at The United Nations:
2. CIDA’s Youth Zone:
3. AIDS Orphans in Sub-Saharan Africa:
4. The Peace Process in Sudan: