Empowerment: Children & Youth: Actors & Activities

Main Actors


There are many important national actors that engage in children and youth empowerment activities. Primarily, domestic government formulates the practices and policies around which these practices take shape, and may support specific initiatives to encourage participation in peace processes. For instance, in Sierra Leone, government ministries aim to establish a youth council, in order to limit the dangers associated with isolating youths in conflict prone societies.1 Also, in South Sudan, government has worked with local and traditional administrations in order to establish programs to engage children and youth in peace processes, such as a school-to community peace outreach program. This has proven particularly effective in terms of community reintegration.2
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At the national and local level, civil society is central to capacitating children and youth programs. Encompassed in this sector, traditional healers, religious leaders, and faith-based groupsare often the first to respond to, and the closest to, the needs of children and youth. For instance, in Angola, when international actors attempted to commence a program to support children dealing with trauma, "it was found that children were already being helped by indigenous psychotherapy, provided by indigenous healers in the form of ritual purification ceremonies."3 Similar rituals have been reported in several African contexts, including Mozambique, Sierra Leone and Northern Uganda.
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In addition, community-based groups both targeting youth issues, and run by youths, are established. The Asian Pacific Youth Gathering brings together youth from the region to creatively express experiences and ways of coping with trauma.4 On a more local level, in Northern Uganda, networks of youths have been formed to help with both psychosocial considerations, as well as a means of generating employment. Empowering Hands, a network of women that were LRA abductees, "use some of the skills that they acquired in the bush such as midwifery and leadership to develop income-generating activities."5 Youth groups and youth councils have been mushrooming in many contexts, reflecting a will to participate.  Go to Women and gender issues

Media (in particular peace media) also play an important, in particular as they produce youth programs, which often involve teams of young journalists (adolescents) and target audience of children and youth.
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Other domestic actors at the local level cannot be overlooked either in their importance, including schools, teachers, parents and families. While in pre and post-conflict situations, these institutions and supportive networks may not be effective for many children and youth, many organizations are engaged in activities aiming at getting their support and direct participation in empowerment programs. For instance, in West Africa, "Youth and Peace Education (YPE) program continued to support its peer mediation programs and monitor activities of its peace clubs in 35 schools in seven countries across the region. Feedback from on-going activities revealed the need to bridge the gap between youth in the formal and non-formal education sectors."6


External actors can play important capacity-building functions for children and youth programs in peacebuilding contexts. Various UN agencies are involved in these roles, central amongst which is UNICEF. UNICEF both funds and implements a range of projects in protection and empowerment of children. For instance, the "Return to Happiness Programme," which sought to provide assistance to children in contexts of violence is implemented by adolescent volunteers, supervised by teacher volunteers. Thus, this program both seeks to support childrens needs while supporting skills of youths.7 Other UN and multilateral agencies, including: the African Union, UNESCO, UNDP, UNDPKO, WHO, and UNHCR have programs or guidelines specifically geared towards the protection of children as well as their active participation in peacebuilding activities.

International financial institutions also support projects of this nature. The World Bank is the primary donor in this regard, and has supported community development programs. For instance, recognizing the importance providing youths with an alternative and opportunities as a conflict prevention strategy, in Timor Leste, the World Bank has supported the Youth Development Project, "to promote youth empowerment and inclusion in development by expanding the capacities of and opportunities for youth groups to initiate and participate in community and local development initiatives."8

In addition, multilateral and bilateral agencies, including USAID, SIDA, DfID, CIDA, and others are involved in children and youth empowerment. USAID for instance is involved in a range of programs, which include: "reintegration of former child soldiers, youth-targeted programs in community dialogue, opportunities for youth to participate in the political arena, and job training and employment programs."9 Bilateral donor agencies may also opt to fund INGOs working within these arenas. For example, in Burundi, SIDA has provided grants to the International Rescue Committee for programs aimed at return and reintegration of refugee youths.

International non-governmental organizations therefore play an important implementing role for many such initiatives. These aims can include a range of programs from skill development training, to reintegration, to advocacy efforts regarding children and youth. Major organizations invested in recovery processes include World Vision and Save the Children. For instance, Save the Children offers services such as "psychosocial wellbeing, community networks for protection, education programs in emergencies, creating safe spaces, anti-trafficking programming, developing national protection policies and child welfare reform, community mobilization and child-to-child interventions."10 Save the Children has been also very active in encouraging the participation of children and youth as true actors in the process, and producing guidelines and manuals to facilitate this. Networks of INGOs are also engaged in this field. War Child International is such a network, with the aim of supporting peace by providing capacity for children, which generally entails working with local associations formed by children and youth themselves. In addition, INGOs are involved in advocacy work. For instance, the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers "works to prevent the recruitment and use of children as soldiers, to secure their demobilisation and to ensure their rehabilitation and reintegration into society...[They] have [also] developed a psycho-social section to foster a constructive inter and intra-disciplinary dialogue on relevant psycho-social issues in the area of children and armed conflict."11

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There are a number of ways in which stakeholders can be involved in supporting children and youth in peacebuilding. In terms of empowerment, agencies work toward greater participation of youth voices in governance. In addition, there are a number of ways in which supporting children and youths role in peace have been structured. Organizations have promoted media and arts initiatives, hosted events, and provided trainings for skills and on peace itself. However, it is important to note, these processes of empowerment may first require attention to immediate needs of protection and reintegration that a post-conflict environment might contain.

Process of protection and reintegration

Particularly in a post-conflict setting, many of the challenges that children and youth faced during war may still exist in the immediate period of 'peace.' Though peace may have been reached at the levels of power, this does not always equate to an end of hostilities at the local level. Hence, for children and youth that have experienced or participated in violence may require protection and reintegration, along with empowerment. A decisive factor in peacebuilding programs engaged with children and youth-- as with any other group of the population--is the need for a safe environment. Experience shows that children and youth who are former combatants, in particular, may be particularly at risk. To that end, many stakeholders are involved in protection and reintegration activities.

Programs engage a range of actors in protection systems, to try to stem potential for continued violence. In this regard, "National child protection systems, protective social practices and childrens own empowerment coupled with good oversight and monitoring are among the elements of a protective environment and enable countries, communities and families to prevent and respond to violence, exploitation and abuse."12 The World Bank for instance has supported a number of INGOS on a project in Liberia to support health and rights concerns around sexual abuse of Youths.13

Reintegration is also important for children and youth that have been displaced or abducted, including those who have participated in armed forces. This may include efforts to identify family of children living in camps. For instance, Save the Children and UNCHR in Kenya work to match children with family-members without increasing the potential for further abuses. Significant focus has also been placed on protecting the rights of former child soldiers, to the support of their reintegration, which include their psycho-social recovery, a process in which ritual healings may be used to help with the reintegration of traumatized children, especially those that had participated in violence.14

Training activities

An important way that children and particularly youths can be both reintegrated and empowered is through skill development. Several organizations work in this field, at a range of levels from providing basic capacities to improve employment, to the development of extensive training programs. In post-conflict environment, UNICEF and international NGOs are providing skills training courses to demobilized children associated with armed forces. The training programs usually include options like agriculture, animal husbandry, mechanics, carpentry, cosmetology, masonry, tailoring and baking, in addition to basic literacy and numeracy, psychosocial counseling and business development. Increasingly, under the recommendations of experts and practitioners, organizations also include "life skills," in other words skills that give the youth "multi-purpose capabilities that will ensure that they become complete citizens with psychological, intellectual and social skills that allow them to survive in society."15 A specific dimension of those skills concern peace and reconciliation concerns and are generally developed in direction of children and youth at large. A large number of organizations and networks, including youth organizations, is now engaged in those initiatives. For example, West Africa Network for Peace Building (WANEP) Youth and Peace Education program focuses on "developing a regional framework for co-existence and the promotion of a culture of peace, non-violence and social responsibility among youth in the sub-region."16 Thus, training can be useful from a perspective of building youth employment capacity and community economic reintegration, as well as aiding in developing a culture of peace amongst youth.   Go to Reconciliation

Events and exchanges

Domestic, regional, and international groups also host events and various types of forums for the promotion of children and youth issues. These include in particular conferences, workshops, camps, and exchange visits. Workshops for example, may be used internally to determine means of mainstreaming children and youth into programming.17 Camps and conferences for youth can also be used for enhancing effective dialogue and provide youth with additional skills. The renowned organization, Seeds of Peace, has established the International Camp, and brings people together through various forums, which "allows participants to develop empathy, respect, and confidence as well as leadership, communication and negotiation skills-- all critical components that will facilitate peaceful coexistence for the next generation."18 In 1997, the Cyprus Consortium Peacebuilding Project (which has organized trainings and workshops with hundreds of youth and adults from both communities) organized an intensive summer camp for Greek and Turkish Cypriot youth ages fourteen to sixteen, allowing them not to only to work but actually live together for two entire weeks.19 Exchange visits across borders may also foster similar sentiments, as "international cooperation is a key element in promoting peaceful coexistence and transnational awareness."20 This can include school and study exchanges, and is often useful where it is trans-regional, facilitating East-East or South-South dialogue.21 Other exchanges may be specifically tailored between youths of countries with similar conflict backgrounds.

In very similar ways, sports have been increasingly used as a tool for development and peace, in particular for young people who are engaged in many competitions and exchange programs as part of reconciliation initiatives.

Participation in governance

Children and youth may be empowered by establishing programming that allows greater participation in governance matters. First, these may include direct inclusion by government, as is the case with the governments establishment of a 'Youth Council.'22
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Organizations can also directly set up structures to empower youth in governance, and may be called upon to do so where government is not particularly inclusive, or where it lacks capacity to establish governance mechanisms.23 Different groups and international networks also involved in providing leadership skills to youths in order to foster participation in local political life, as these groups are often excluded.  Go to Key websites

Media and arts

Engaging children and youth in peacebuilding processes frequently entails utilizing creative means, such as producing films, supporting media platforms, and fostering expression through arts such as theater, music and crafts, and other such activities. These programs may directly engage children and youth in their creation, and/or may target children and youth.

In terms of media, a number of tools have been used in this regard. Firstly, children's books and films may be utilized to disseminate messages about peace and its components, and to allow viewers and readers to identify with protagonists. For instance, Little Elephant has produced two illustrated children's books and a film, with the hope that "For people affected by war, violence and loss, activities can be directed towards promoting resilience, building courage, strengthening family and community bonds and preventing future violence."24 This can be effective in terms of domestic reconciliation; yet, it may prove useful across regions, allowing children from disparate locations to have a sense of connectivity with others experiencing similar circumstances elsewhere. This strategy was used in the Little Elephant Production Finding Courage, which employed stories of surviving violence, ranging from Afghanistan to Colombia, to Sierra Leone, and New York. These media may also be a particularly useful means through which to empower children and youth, by allowing these groups to engage in and be responsible for production. For instance, in Sierra Leone, Youth Radio is used as a space in which youth can articulate their ideas and visions of the future. On this basis, "the idea is that the programmes should not focus on the past and lament history but on the rediscovery of 'youthness' and give the youth back their worth."25

Similarly, performing arts may be a useful route of expression for children and youth. A strong element of theater has been used, and has been particularly successful, in parts of sub-Saharan Africa. For instance, the Liberian Dance Troupe targets psychosocial recovery, issues or health and awareness, as well as attempts to provide tangible IT skills.26 Participatory theater has also been employed in Eastern Congo. One theater group in particular, the Chem-Chem is comprised of former child soldiers (boys and girls). They play for young people in schools and youth centers but also entire communities, in public places (such as market places).27
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Visual arts programs are also used as a creative means of working through trauma and experiences of conflict. Equally important can be the use of creative writing. For instance, WANEP hosts a peace poem competition in the region. Advertised widely, winners selected were presented with awards for their work.28 Similar competitions are organized by NGOs, international organizations and sometimes government institutions in many countries, generally with the support of the media. Such activities can encourage children and youth to think through experiences of conflicts and importance of peace, and also to garner a sense of achievement and pride in their work in this domain.

1. Angela McIntyre and Thokozani Thusi, "Children and Youth in Sierra Leone's Peace-Building Process," African Security Review 12, no. 2 (2003).
2. Daniel Toole, "Peacebuilding Strategies: Transition from Relief to Development: Why Children and Early Intervention Matter," (UNICEF: October 2006), 10.
3. Edward C. Green and Alcinda Honwana Ph. D., "Indigenous Healing of War Affected Children in Africa," Africa Policy E-Journal. No. 10 (July 1999).
4. Stephanie Schell-Faucon, Conflict Transformation Through Educational and Youth Programmes. (Berlin: Berghof Handbook for Conflict Transformation, 2001).
5. Erin Baines, Eric Stover, and Marieke Wierda, War-Affected Children and Youth in Northern Uganda: Toward a Brighter Future (Chicago: John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, 2006), 22.
6. Ibid.
7. UNICEF, Map of Programmes for Adolescent Participation During Conflict and Post-Conflict Situations (New York: United Nations, 2003), 23.
8. World Bank, Timor-Leste Youth Development Project.
9. USAID Youth Programs
10. Save the Children: Child Protection
11. Child Soldier
12. UNICEF: Protection of Children
13. The World Bank website Projects and Operations.
14. Green and Honwana Ph. D., "Indigenous Healing of War Affected Children in Africa."
15. McIntyre and Thusi, "Children and Youth in Sierra Leone's Peace-Building Process."
16. West Africa Network for Peace Building.
17. Baines, Stover, and Wierda, War-Affected Children and Youth in Northern Uganda: Toward a Brighter Future.
18. Seeds of Peace.
19. This experience is documented in particular by Lisa Schirch, Ritual and Symbol in Peacebuilding (Bloomfield, CT: Kumarian Press, 2005).
20. Schell-Faucon. Conflict Transformation Through Educational and Youth Programmes, 19.
21. Ibid.
22. McIntyre and Thusi, "Children and Youth in Sierra Leone's Peace-Building Process."
23. Baines, Stover, and Wierda, War-Affected Children and Youth in Northern Uganda: Toward a Brighter Future, 18-19.
24. Little Elephant.
25. McIntyre and Thusi, "Children and Youth in Sierra Leone's Peace-Building Process."
26. West Africa Network for Peace Building (WANEP) Youth and Peace Education program.
27. Batrice Pouligny, Thtre Participatif pour la Transformation des Conflits au Sud Kivu (Rpublique dmocratique du Congo), Juin 2007.
28. West Africa Network for Peace Building (WANEP) Youth and Peace Education program.

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