Q&A / Afghanistan
Perspectives on Youth Peacebuilding in Afghanistan
Afghanistan has one of the highest proportions of young people in the world. The median age of the population is 15.7 years old with 70% under 25 years of age. However, youth inclusion in peace processes in past years has been marginal and young leaders´ voices rarely heard. In this Q&A, CRTG Working Group Executive Director Cecilia Polizzi and USIP Generation Change Fellow Abdul Amal Basit discuss existing challenges and explore pathways to meaningful youth participation.
April 21, 2022 / Q&A
The situation of children and youth in Afghanistan has remained highly critical in the past several decades, marked by endemic violence, lack of access to basic resources, education and human rights. As the country was labeled the “worst place to be born in the world”, the withdrawal of U.S. troops and the declining political and security environment heightened the risk for children and young people to become victims of abuse, human trafficking and exploitation into terrorist ranks. In the current scenario, what could be done by both local and international bodies to ensure child protection and the rights of boys and girls?
In Afghanistan, children and teenagers, both boys and girls, are more than ever before victims of the Taliban's policies and the prevailing culture in the country. It derives an increase in ethical and moral responsibilities of domestic and foreign parties. Hereby, I would like to mention some important action points:
Educate children about their rights. Talking openly with children about their rights and entitlements helps children understand their own personal safety boundaries and can encourage them to talk about any concerns. Ultimately, children are less likely to think abuse is their fault and more likely to report an offender.
Support prevention programs. Too often, intervention occurs only after abuse is reported. Greater investments are needed to support prevention programs including family counselling, home visits and child care assistance.
Invest in children. Encouraging community leaders to be supportive of children and families, require employers to provide family-friendly work environments, asking local and national elders to support child protection legislation to better protect children and improve their lives.
Volunteer. Volunteering may take many forms including working in the community, offering support to vulnerable children and their families or even start a playgroup.
Civil society organizations (CSOs) and local communities play a significant role in service delivery and implementation of programs, especially in areas where governmental capacity is at its minimum. How can CSOs may help protect and promote children's rights and how CSOs capacity could be enhanced and meaningfully sustained?
The third sector includes a wide range of organizations operating in the social space between households, private and public sector on ‘matters of public concern’. CSOs activities encompass advocacy, service delivery, technical support, funding and information provision. Therefore, preparing the ground for CSOs, proposing effective programs, as well as their financial support, will lead to better service for people and the community while also enhance their capacity.
The Youths Association of Afghanistan is the largest youth organization in the country working for peace, education, justice and gender equity. Could you tell us more about this organization?
The Afghanistan Youths Association (NAJM) in Dari is a registered not-for-profit youth organization that aims at empowering youth and improving their abilities through teachings of Islam in order to enable them to contribute to development and positive social change. We work for peace, education, justice and gender equality around the country. Our organization was established in March 2012. Since its establishment, NAJM has organized a number of major educational programs and competitions including dozens of events for youth in Afghanistan’s various provinces addressing on youth issues, campaigns on national issues and peaceful demonstrations in interest of the nation. NAJM is also active in providing assistance through its volunteers to people affected by natural disasters. Its main office is located in Kabul and has representatives and members in more than 30 provinces of the country.
What motivated you to take action?
As a young leader who was born in Afghanistan and has witnessed war, insecurity and injustice and more importantly as a person who can understand and empathize with other young people, I understand working for peace and positive change as one of my important responsibilities. I think that everyone is responsible to work for a brighter future and that change is possible when we take action. This motivates me to step ahead.
How to organize, campaign and motivate youth involvement in peace and security and how young Afghans work/worked to build peace?
Young Afghans work together by finding a common ground, exchanging thoughts, making plans and setting goals. In my personal experience, identifying and addressing youth needs, developing strategies and holding discussions were the best and most valuable approaches.
What roadblocks have you faced and how did you overcome them?
The opposition of society´s elders, the short-sightedness of young people and fear of terrorist groups were great challenges for me. To solve it, I tried harder to engage with elders, developed practical plans with the youth and avoided as much as possible the things that can endanger our lives. I had to work for youths, live among them and inside my country so I should be careful. These are two simple but important rules for me as a young leader.
How does your contribution to peacebuilding differ as a young person?
To set an example though my own actions, being a positive member of society, participating in peacebuilding programs to helping and educating ourselves, learning from our mentors and professionals so that we could reflect back on our actions and also become a volunteer in social activities.
What is your recommendation to other young peace and security activists and to others who may be interested in engaging with this work in the future, both in Afghanistan and other countries around the world, to bring about positive change in their communities?
Unfortunately, young people have often been seen as potentially dangerous "subjects" and policy approaches often view them as a "problem". Often, young boys in the age group of 16-30 are seen as the main perpetrators of criminal and political violence. In other words, a lot of contemporary thinking about youth and conflict is negative. On the other hand, through a positive outlook, young people can be the greatest asset of society, enabling growth, prosperity and lasting peace in the country. Consider the following suggestions to encourage youth participation in community development:
Give youth an opportunity to contribute and offer their input.
Allow active collaboration between adults and youth and work to integrate youth into committees with adults who can act as mentors.
Form relationships with teachers who engage youth in community concerns to increase youth involvement
Encourage youth to identify their own interests and activities where they can make positive changes.
Allow youth to confront serious social problems and become active community citizens.
Evaluate youth involvement efforts on a regular basis to identify and capitalize on strengths, identify and address weaknesses and support meaningful youth participation.