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Aug 25, 2010 | Publications

Written by David Nosworthy, the report, titled Children and Security Sector Reform in Post-Conflict Peace-Building, reviews the principles of SSR and transitional justice, although its focus is on how to integrate children and youth in these processes.  It argues that “engaging children constructively in these processes will assist in successfully establishing long-term stability” (iii).  The report is part of a series of papers published by UNICEF that seeks to establish a “child rights-based approach to transitional justice” (iv).

The report contends that the concerns of young people are generally ignored or simplified by treating them as either “victims or demons” (6).  As well, the focus in post-conflict reconstruction tends to be on the use of child soldiers and the necessity of disarming, demobilizing, and reintegrating them as part of SSR.  Moreover, the “tendency to categorize issues thematically” (e.g. DDR, legal reform, penal reform, etc.) often means that issues affecting children are not dealt with in an integrated and child-centric way (4-5).  Consequently, this report considers the wider impact of conflict on children (for example, abduction and rape as tactics of war) and how they should participate in reconstruction (3-4).

Nosworthy also points out that “[a]rmed conflict is particularly detrimental for young people because it leads to insecurity, uncertainty about the future, limited or lack of access to services such as education, availability of small arms, and breakdown in the rule of law” (3).

In particular, involving young people in SSR and transitional justice processes, as well as peace-building more generally, is seen as important for ensuring the “hard-won peace is to be durable” (4, 8).  This can be done by empowering young people “through education and meaningful opportunities for participation”, such as developing “a code of conduct for teachers and students” or taking measures against early marriage (6, 9).

The reform of the juvenile justice system is presented as one of the most important, yet frequently overlooked, processes that affects young people in post-conflict countries (17).  More specifically, for example, it is important that children are not incarcerated with adults and that it is acknowledged that children can be any combination of victims, perpetrators, and witnesses (17).

Many post-conflict countries also have a “youth bulge” – which some observers contend is “a destabilising factor”, while others see this abundance of youth to be an “engine of economic and social development” (7-9).  To encourage active youth participation in peace-building, the report suggests that “support from their parents, teachers, community elders and non-governmental organizations as well as figures in public authority” is necessary (9).  These authority figures act as support networks and provide positive examples of how “to resist peace-spoilers” (16).

Finally, among other recommendations about the structuring of SSR and transitional justice processes, the report recommends that threats to young people should be monitored and analyzed by “all necessary stakeholders at all levels” and that the focus of the juvenile justice system should be on “restorative and educational approaches to justice, and diverting children away from the formal justice system” (20).

Thus the youth bulge can either be a threat or an opportunity – if SSR and transitional justice are structured in ways that reflect the unique needs and rights of children, the report argues that young people can help create and sustain a durable peace.