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A Lost Generation: Young People and Conflict in Africa

family. It is not uncommon for men to remain unmarried into their 40s or beyond, during which time they will be regarded by their entourage as being a ‘youth’. In contrast, women are in many societies are expected to marry in their teens. Poverty and conflict often impose early sexual activity on them, whether they are married or not. Thus by the age of 24 many young women are already mothers of several children, and so by common definitions no longer ‘youth’.

Furthermore, although the term ‘youth’ is gender-neutral, applying to both male and female young people, in actual usage it often refers implicitly to male youth, and, as a result, projects and legal provisions are often geared to the needs of male youth to the exclusion of females. This is a particular problem with the identification of child soldiers. As we will see below, provision for the support and demobilisation of child soldiers tends to assume that the children in question are boys. However, some studies estimate that up to 40% of child soldiers may be girls (Save the Children Fund UK 2005), indeed, the Burundi case study in the previous section of this volume presents a testimony from a girl who enlisted voluntarily at the age of 12. As has been attested elsewhere, the policy and humanitarian communities find it difficult to accept the notion of women as combatants, given the strong association of vulnerability and peaceableness with women, and aggression and territoriality with men (Carpenter 2006; El-Bushra 2007). The humanitarian community also demonstrates a confusion, which we return to below, over the definition of ‘combatant’.

Taking these definitional issues into consideration, in this book we are broadly concerned with ‘young people’, meaning both youth and children. Where it is necessary to make a distinction between youth and children, we consider children to be those under the age of 18, and youth to be over 18. It should be noted that many of the ‘child mother’ respondents in this study were ‘youth’ at the time of the research, but had been made pregnant while still under 18. While we maintain the United Nations definition of youth as ending at age 24, we also recognise and accept that the social status of ‘youth’ may continue after that age.

The impact of war on youth and children

In Burundi and Uganda where the ‘Restoring Peace Project’ was implemented, experience showed that war has intensified structural discrimination against youth, and that it has done so in a variety of ways. Both countries are now in a post-conflict phase (although war in Uganda is not completely over), and yet young people are still facing the consequences, not only of the war itself but also of underlying inequalities and injustices towards them that still persist, often in exaggerated forms. These inequalities and injustices take a wide range of forms, most notably including gross sexual exploitation and exclusion from economic resources, and our

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