The youth needs SDG 16 and SDG 16 needs to be achieved with the youth. For young people to have an influence on their societies and own their lives, they need an enabling environment with peace, justice and inclusion. However, they are often most affected by conflict, injustice and exclusion: one out of four young people lived in settings affected by armed conflict or organized violence in 2016; 43% of all homicides globally involve people between 10 and 29 years of age; 70% of all human trafficking victims in Sub-Saharan Africa between 2010-2012 were children; and only 2.2 per cent of the world’s parliamentarians were under 30 years of age in 2017.  When young people experience violence, discrimination and limited political inclusion, they can lose trust in the governance systems that are supposed to protect and support them.

In turn, achieving peace, justice and inclusion in any country is impossible without youth meaningful engagement. They play a critical role in sustaining peace and in sustainable development, as peacebuilders, frontline workers, development practitioners, human rights defenders, environmental activists, among others. Young people bring to the forefront the major issues in their communities and countries, and their engagement often serves as the connecting tissue between diverse peace efforts, by fostering social cohesion in their community, bridging divides between communities and linking the peacebuilding at different levels.

The United Nations Security Council’s landmark Resolution 2250 (2015) recognizes that young people play an important and positive role in the maintenance and promotion of international peace and security. As highlighted in the Progress Study “The Missing Peace”, many young men and women want to and already do contribute to social cohesion through building peace from the most local levels in their families and communities, through national, regional and international levels. They are working across different kinds of conflict and with different types of violence, including violent crime, gender-based violence, political violence, and terrorism. They are expanding their reach through innovative partnerships with local government, civil society, civic and women’s organizations, and building regional and global networks. The youth is forging new pathways and spaces through arts, culture, sports and especially through the creative occupation of cyberspace, social media and the development of new technologies for peace. Finally, young people continue to contribute to meaningful change through their peaceful protest and dissent by, for example, seeking justice, challenging corruption, demanding freedom of movement and expression, and protesting gun violence.

The second resolution on youth, peace and security, the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2419 (2018) highlighted young people’s participation in peace processes and conflict resolution. It was followed by the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2535 (2020), which emphasized, among other things, the need of institutionalizing the youth, peace and security agenda.

Member States and international actors need to ‘invest in the upside’ of young people. And to do this effectively, it is necessary to move from systems of exclusion to meaningful inclusion.

Photo credit: @UN Photo/RickBajornas