A Lost Generation: Young People and Conflict in Africa
legislation. In this chapter we attempt an overview of the strengths and weaknesses of the international system.
A range of duty bearers must take responsibility for abuses of children’s and young people’s rights, including parents, neighbours, governments and international bodies as well as armed groups. Our case studies suggest that international instruments protecting children and young people in and after war are being ignored in three main ways.
Firstly there is the sexual abuse suffered – mainly but not exclusively by young girls
at the hands of soldiers and in some cases of other responsible adults including
relatives and neighbours. Both the Burundi and Uganda case studies describe this phenomenon. This is a very direct form of abuse which is not only a clear violation of international human rights and humanitarian law, but which is also within the power of governments and the international community to prevent, or at least to mitigate, by ensuring that mechanisms are in place to pursue perpetrators and provide redress and support to the survivors. The international community and domestic legal institutions are failing effectively and purposefully to pursue the protection of young people and children from sexual abuse and sexual violence in situations of armed conflict.
Secondly, international legislation, as indicated above, clearly affirms that children and young people have the same economic, social and political rights as adults, and that these are the same in and after periods of conflict as in periods of stability. Yet the young people in our survey are consistently missing out on access to services and opportunities which would be regarded as routine in other circumstances. A common refrain of respondents in all three countries was the frustration and hopelessness that results when they are obliged to abandon, or forego, their education.
Discrimination against young people prevents them from exercising their rights to education and employment, and threatens their rights to family life, to political participation and to property. As described above for Angola, discrimination against youth combines with discrimination against women, different ethnic groups, etc. to create multiple forms of disadvantage for individuals. Governments are failing to identify and overcome the barriers young people face in accessing services, so that, for example, even where universal primary education is in place, certain categories of children (including, for example, girls with small children, young people who have been involved for most of their youth in armed movements, or who are living in isolated rural environments), may be unable, in practice, to take advantage of this provision. This represents a massive loss of social capital and has major implications for the future social health of conflict-affected societies.