Young people as a group can undermine peace processes if they are not included in them. At the same time, peacekeeping work depends on the participation of young people. This makes young people some of the most important actors for peace and security, and the question of their participation in an issue of future and destiny. That is the opinion of Inger Ashing, head of the Global Child Forum and board member of Save the Children and Save the Children International.
I have been involved in the rights of children and young people as well as in development issues for large parts of my life. Through my commitment, I have had the opportunity to take part in the situation for children and young people in different parts of the world. As chairman of Save the Children, I have also met children in very vulnerable situations.
Something that has become increasingly obvious to me over the years is how equally the challenges are expressed by children and young people around the world. When I meet children and young people, it is often about making their voice heard, being able to take part in society and being able to give their image in different ways. Now, of course, one cannot and should not simplify because there are sometimes abysmal differences between what the living conditions look like for different children and young people. It is not possible to compare the life situation of the young people I met in the Philippines about a year ago who were affected by the typhoon, or those I met in a shantytown in South Africa at the end of last year with how young it is in Sweden. There can be huge differences in opportunities and conditions in life.
Despite differences in conditions, these are often the same things that are highlighted as problematic for young people. From a societal perspective, the challenges are about lack of education, difficulties in finding work and support and that young people are not admitted to / take part in decision-making processes on the same terms as other groups in society. Many of these challenges are the same. Large parts of the world have experienced an economic crisis that has in many ways affected the young population. What is particularly clear is that in many countries a generation is growing up that cannot count on getting better than their parents, something that has often been a matter of course for previous generations. From an individual perspective, it may be about not having the opportunity to make the decisive decisions about one's own life.
In the most vulnerable countries, those affected by conflict, the recruitment of young people to warring groups is often made possible by the fact that young people do not have the opportunity to establish themselves in society. Poverty, unemployment and a sense of exclusion create a breeding ground for recruitment. It may be one of the few options for survival. In war and conflict, children and young people not only fall victim but are sometimes forced into the conflict as well.
In countries like Sweden, where there has been peace for a long time, similar perceived conditions increasingly lead to social protests. There is a feeling that Sweden no longer holds together in the same way as before, that groups of young people do not feel a sense of belonging and belonging to the rest of society. In recent years, these trends have been seen in more and more countries.
There has long been a knowledge that what builds stable and sustainable societies in the long run is that there is trust both between people and between people and the public institutions. Without trust, it is difficult to build a lasting peace and a harmonious society.
How important are young people to build a stable and sustainable society? Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation (DHF) discusses in a dialogue paper from February 2014 an inclusive peace work based on local participation and anchoring. They have conducted case studies in Somalia and East Timor, among other places. One of the conclusions is that peacekeeping work depends on the participation of young people. It is already known that an inclusive approach based on best practice and methods for both broadening and deepening local participation is of crucial importance. All parties involved in a conflict should be represented, heard and involved in peace work. In DHF's studies, young people's influence and participation have been highlighted as a particularly important aspect. Their conclusion is that young people as a group can undermine peace processes if they are not included and correspondingly contribute to peace to a large extent if they are involved in a constructive way. Their conclusions are also confirmed by others. This makes the question of young people's participation a question of the future and destiny.
There is a widespread image of young people being disillusioned, that many side with society. We can see examples that confirm that picture, the unrest and riots among young people in recent years are some of these. There is a tendency for the image of young people as a problem to become predominant. But there are significantly more young people who have the power and will to change their lives and the communities they live in. I have met many. Young people who, if given the opportunity, can be real resources in a positive social construction. An image of young people as a problem rather than as a resource can in itself lead to reinforcing the experience of exclusion that many young people experience.
The difficult question is how is the opportunity created for young people to participate? How-to? On the one hand, young people have knowledge, skills and not least opinions that are important to take into account, on the other hand, it can be difficult to create contexts where these can be utilized in a constructive way. An important first step is to start listening to young people themselves, let them be involved and formulate both the problems and the solutions. Not least, it is important to involve young people's own organizations.