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Lesson 4: Youth Engagement as a Strategy for Promoting Peace and Security

In the exploration of youth participation in democratic processes, a recurring theme has emerged: the vital importance of creating an enabling environment for youth to engage and thrive in civic life. As the YDC unfolds ten case studies from Latin America to East Asia, it becomes clear that policymakers must strive to create inclusive systems empowering all youth to contribute. The authors found that, despite the unique contexts of each country, there are important policy lessons to be learned. In light of the findings of the study, five recommendations have been made. For this edition, the YDC presents a key policy lesson on youth’s role in peace and security:

Youth Engagement as a Strategy for Promoting Peace and Security

Another lesson learnt from the case countries is the potential of young people to drive sustainable peace and stability. With the role of the youth in local conflicts and civil wars, meaningfully integrating young people into the public affairs gives them a sense of belonging to the system and motivation to protect its stability at all costs. Doing this will not only address the obstacle of political instability but also define the role of young people in advancing peace and stability, both nationally and internationally. 

A good example is Liberia, a country with a history of several civil wars and young people playing a major role in those conflicts. With this tragic history, one of the peacebuilding strategies Liberia adopted in the post-2003 civil war period was to meaningfully invest in young people through education, fellowship programmes, and to give them platforms to advance their voices, while also influencing government policies. This approach has been largely successful in the country. This is evident in the recent efforts by the Federation of Liberian Youth in advocating for a violence-free election in October 2023, and even going to the extent of encouraging youth leaders in political parties to sign the Buutuo Declaration – a pact that commits all signatories to promote peaceful conduct during the forthcoming electioneering process, as well as overall political stability in the country. This is also the case in Nepal and the Solomon Islands – countries that have experienced several internal struggles and civil conflicts over the years. After becoming a democratic republic in 2008, Nepal began to consciously integrate young people into its public affairs, especially youth from minority groups. While there is still much work to be done, the country has been experiencing relative peace and stability.  Similarly, the Solomon Islands Truth and Reconciliation Commission, established to investigate the causes of ethnic violence, emphasised the importance of enhancing youth participation in decision-making at both local and national policy levels in order to prevent conflicts in the future.

Policy Recommendations

To promote sustainable peace and stability, governments should pay keen attention to the youth population. This can be done in the following ways:

  1. Quality education and empowerment of young people: Empower young people with quality education and transferable skills to maintain peace and security. Educating young people with relevant knowledge and skills will make them meaningful contributors to the country’s socio-economic development. With adequate civic education, young people will understand their history (whether tragic or otherwise) and identify their significant roles in driving peace and security, as well as maintaining political stability. Countries should invest heavily in quality education, including civic education and other programmes that help young people become responsible citizens. This can be achieved by providing scholarship opportunities for young people at primary, secondary, and tertiary institutions. Governments should make conscious efforts to educate young people on historical events, highlighting their roles in shaping history for future generations. With this understanding, young people will not be used as a tool in the hands of politicians to drive civil unrest or political instability.
  2. Institutionalising youth inclusion in public affairs: Establish constitutional provisions and policies that erase the structural barriers limiting the participation of young people in public affairs. Meaningfully integrating young people into politics, elections, and civic engagement requires conscious efforts from the government. For instance, voting age should be reduced to acceptable standards (this could be 16 years old or 18 years old depending on the local context). Young people should be able to vye for any elective position of their choice, both at the county and federal levels, and governments should introduce affirmative actions and reduce age restrictions for elective positions. Beyond these constitutional provisions, governments should mandate political parties to provide the necessary support for young people through nominations and supporting them with campaign finances. With changes such as these, young people will not be limited to just being voters, they will also be active players in national governance.
  3. Promoting the human rights of young people: Commit to promoting and protecting the human rights of young people, including freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly, right to job and economic freedom, and right to political participation. To avoid civil unrest, governments need to respect and promote the rights of young people to secure decent jobs, as well as freedom to express their views, either online or offline. The constant abuse of these rights leads to frustration, subsequently drives civil unrest, and distorts the peace and stability in these countries.  If any country seeks to promote peace and stability, it must commit significant resources to advancing the human rights of young people.