At the Permanent Mission of Switzerland to the UN on October 10th, a working meeting of UN Youth Delegates was held to discuss peaceful alternatives for youth in post-conflict settings. Four incredible speakers were in attendance, including Rosalie Azar, Subashini Perumal (Global Network of Women Peacebuilders), Saudamini Siegrist (UNICEF), and New York Times bestselling author and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Ishmael Beah.

Several key issues were highlighted, including the exploitation of children in armed forces. In response, the UNICEF will be launching the 2016 Campaign next month, which will aim at ending the recruitment of children for armed conflict by 2016.

Ishmael Beah

Ishmael Beah pointed out that while it is easy to engage people in the protection of children, the practice of implementation is much more difficult. Programs are often set up to give children a primary school education, while forgetting that it is necessary to go beyond the basics to garner future leaders. What’s more, the opportunity to exercise the creative skill of youth is often unavailable. In response, Beah speaks for many youth from his native Sierra Leone by saying, “I do want an education, but what am I going to do with it?”

To survive a setting of conflict takes a massive amount of intelligence and skill; something that the youth of countries like Sierra Leone, Uganda, Kenya, Nepal Bosnia and Liberia know well. Young people often already have the ideas, but they lack the agency to develop the ideas into action. Because forcing a one-size-fits-all structure on many different regions limits youth creativity, it is important that they have the resources to think outside of the box. Such resources include education at a college level, funding to expand small business endeavors, legislation to protect their rights and, above all, on the ground follow-up to ensure that creative ideas can turn into lasting careers. The goal is to allow youth to generate income for themselves.

Accountability, justice and reconciliation are essential for reparation in these settings. Engaging in a dialogue is the first step to accomplishing these goals for youth in need. Luckily, active discussion is something that can be done at any level. With more visibility, lasting efforts in the well being of children and youth can be realized.

By Sarah Halford (Peace Boat US Intern)