Why youth policy is a key factor in preventing conflict  

Why youth policy is a key factor in preventing conflict  

On International Youth Day, it is vital to acknowledge and understand the role of youth policies and the positive effect their implementation has on communities and countries, especially for the reduction and prevention of conflict. 

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By Heidi Green

The facts about youth policy

Can creating formal youth policies actually make a difference for a country in regards to reducing conflict? Through analyzing the 2014 Global Peace Index’s report ranking of countries from most peaceful to least peaceful, and comparing it with the State of Youth Policies 2014 report, there is a clear correlation. In the top ten most peaceful countries, eight out of ten have complete, full-version youth policies in place. In the ten least peaceful countries in the world, though some have a draft policy, zero out of ten have implemented youth policies.

The problem

Youth are the main population targeted for violent or extremist groups. They are impressionable and easier to recruit, especially in low-income areas where they have no access to education, jobs, recreational, or other activities. Academic researchers who interviewed incarcerated terrorists observed that, “…it was clear that the major influence [of the growth of terrorist groups] was the social environment of the youth” (Post et al 2003, pg 173). They found that over half of those they interviewed attributed their involvement in terror beginning with recruitment by a community youth club (Post et al 2003, pg. 173). One interviewee explained that his reason for engaging in group violence was to enhance social status. As he stated, “I got a lot of respect from my acquaintances and from the young people in the village” (Post et al 2003, p. 182).

NPR reported that the Somali terrorist group Al-Shabab (meaning literally “The Youth”) was even recruiting teenagers from the US to fight in Somalia.

It was also observed that the terrorist group MOJWA in West Africa, “…recruit[s] unemployed youth from southern Algerian provinces in exchange for financial support for their poor families” (Alexander 2013, p. 12).

What exactly is a Youth Policy, and how can it help?

The European Youth Forum has developed 11 indicators to structure a National Youth Policy: non-formal education, youth training, youth legislation, youth budget, youth information, multi-level policy, youth research, participation, inter-ministerial cooperation, innovation, and youth advising bodies.

Successful results are not only dependent on having a policy, but the quality, and accurate implementation of the policies. Not only should basic needs be met, but also mental health needs, and the need for recreational activities or non-formal education. Non-formal education and youth training, the first two indicators of youth policy, illuminate the importance of establishing and maintaining programmes that enhance learning, education, and awareness of important issues to improve development.

How do I implement it?

The UN Youth Social Development and Policy Division has guidelines and suggestions on implementing effective youth policies, mentioning partnerships as an important factor.

They even provide a toolkit to evaluate youth policy.  Within the toolkit, there is a section on “Youth and Conflict Prevention.” It asks the pressing question, “How are young people and youth organizations involved in [peacebuilding and peace making] activities?” (pg 81).

Of course you don’t have to be a government official or policy maker to start making a difference. What is really needed are an increased amount of youth development programmes. Even if your resources or budged are limited, there is no reason to be overwhelmed. Starting small is the best way, whether it is starting a sports club, or a non-formal educational environment, relying on volunteers and slowing building an organization that can contribute to helping youth in a community, and coming together to stand for a peaceful cause.

To counteract groups of violence and terrorism who target youth, our communities and governments must be actively engaged in running programmes for peace that also target youth and develop youth into leaders. This begins with establishing a formal youth policy and ensuring that it is implemented. We cannot afford to be somewhat active. We cannot even be equally active. We must be significantly more active than groups that lead youth to engaging in conflict. As Edmund Burke has warned, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

Hopefully, in the future, as youth policies and their outcomes are measured, we will continue to refine and enhance policies and programmes. There will be more of an ability to focus in certain areas such as mental health and disability inclusion. For that to happen we must call on our governments and policymakers to take youth policies more seriously. Let us together spread the message of the importance of youth policies and the positive effect their implementation has on communities and countries, especially for the reduction and prevention of conflict. 

Heidi Green is a graduate student at the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy at SOAS, University of London. She has taught Global Studies and Conflict Resolution classes and seminars for youth. She is a Global Youth Ambassador for A World at School and presented a TED talk on teaching empathy and conflict resolution in schools.

If you are interested to contributing to the debate on conflict and conflict transformation, then please contact TransConflict by clicking here.


  1. Alexander, Y., 2013. ‘Terrorism in North African and the Sahel in 2012: Global Reach and Implications’. International Center for Terrorism Studies, Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, 1-31.
  2. Post, J.M., Sprinzak, E., & Denny, L.M. ‘The Terrorists in Their Own Words: Interviews with 35 Incarcerated Terrorists’. Terrorism and Political Science, 15(1), 171-184.
  3. Temple-raston, D. ‘Missing Somali Teens May be Terrorist Recruits’. NPR 28 January 2009.
  4. ‘11 Indicators of a National Youth Policy’, 2001. United Nations Youth Social Policy and Development Division. 
  5. ‘Formulate National Youth Policies’. United Nations Youth Social Policy and Development Division. 
  6. ‘Global Peace Index’, 2014. Measuring Peace and Assessing Country Risk. Institute for Economics and Peace.
  7. ‘Making Commitments Matter: a Toolkit for Youth People to Evaluate National Youth Policy’. United Nations Economic and Social Affairs, 1-108.
  8. ‘The State of Youth Policy in 2014’, 2014.

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