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A Lost Generation: Young People and Conflict in Africa

Chapter five: Young People And Armed Conflict In Africa – Policy and Practice

Introduction

In the discourse of conflict analysis relating to Africa, it is sometimes said that war is a war between generations, and that intergenerational conflict is one of the drivers of war. In this analysis, young people – and this usually refers to young men – are seen as perpetrators, rather than victims, of violence. Is this really the case, and how do young people themselves see their role in armed conflict and its impact on their lives? The literature on youth and violent conflict rarely examines the way young people are affected by conflict – the pressures on them to join up, the constraints imposed on their lives by the lack of opportunities or hope for the

future,

and

the

consequences

of

these

impacts

for

the

community

in

general

and

for future generations.

Nor does it address the contributions which young people

can

and

do

make

to

peace-building

and

social

reconstruction.

In

this

chapter,

we

examine the impact of war on the ‘Restoring Peace Project’, and assess

young people whether the –

who have contributed to the relatively recent - attempts of

the international community made a positive difference to

to support their lives.

young

people

in

conflict

situations

have

‘Youth’ and ‘Children’ – some definitional problems

The United Nations General Assembly defines youth as being individuals aged between 15 and 24 years of age, and children as being under 15. However, the Convention on the Rights of the Child (United Nations 1989) and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (Organisation of African Unity 1990) both define a child as being under the age of 18. This contradiction reveals an ambiguity in the international community’s approach to young adults - and especially those between the ages of 15 and 18, and reflects the wide range of variations in the way different social systems and national legislations deal with adolescence. The context of armed conflict in which high proportions of the world’s 1 billion youth and children live exacerbates this ambiguity, since war often forces young people into adult roles as carers, fighters, breadwinners, sexual partners, and so on, at an age when, in other societies, they might be protected from such exposure.

Defining ‘youth’ as falling into the 15-24 age range is problematic for other reasons, too. Although this definition mirrors normal parlance in the West, in many non- Western cultures the social status of ‘youth’ may continue for much longer – or much shorter – periods than this. In many countries a person remains a ‘youth’ in a social sense until he or she marries and takes on family responsibilities. For a man, this may require the accumulation of sufficient wealth to found and maintain a

Defence for Children nternational – Canada (DC – Canada) is the Canadian section of the Geneva-based Defence for Children nternational. DC Canada is dedicated to promoting and protecting the rights of children and youth worldwide, and to fostering adherence to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. 3

DC -Canada, ACORD nternational, World Vision Uganda, ACORD Burundi, and Development Workshop (DW) Angola with funding from the Canadian nternational Development Agency (CDA) from the Canada Fund for Africa. 32

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