Youth building Peace: Sri Lanka’s best hope

2017-08-12 00:01:57

International Youth Day 2017

 In September, last year, I had the privilege of attending an event in Galle, with the then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, to meet over 100 young Sri Lankans actively engaged in peacebuilding work.   
Talking about these skilled young men and women, their approaches to peacebuilding varied as their backgrounds. But every single one of them unified in their commitment and passion, actively contributing to a peaceful and unified Sri Lanka. These young people were born and lived their early lives during conflict, terror and displacement. Yet their involvement in peacebuilding, reconciliation and post-conflict transformation is playing a part in creating a better future for us all.   
As the world celebrates International Youth Day this Saturday (12 August), the theme this year happens to be ‘Youth building Peace, is especially relevant for Sri Lanka’.   
Just over a month ago, the UN Secretary General, António Guterres appointed one such champion. She is Sri Lanka’s own Jayathma Wickramanayake, Guterres’ global Envoy on Youth. Among her impressive list of achievements, Jayathma was most recently advocating for conflict prevention at the time of her appointment. There are many Jayathmas in Sri Lanka, committed young men and women working tirelessly for the betterment of society.   



Sri Lanka’s youth have always been its greatest, yet most under estimated asset.   
According to the Sri Lanka National Human Development Report (NHDR 2014), 68.5% of youth, who were subject to a survey, believed in the right to be treated equally and without discrimination. This is a positive indication that youth see equality as the key to social integration and are continuing with their role in promoting it. However young people today face many challenges in education, employment, sexual and reproductive health and many other issues, which seriously undermine their ability to reach their full potential.   
Only 8% of schools offer GCE A/L in science, arts and commerce while only 20% offer arts and commerce (NHDR 2014). According to the Annual Labour Force Survey of 2015, youth (15-24 years) unemployment rate stands at 20.8%. This is alarming, considering that the overall unemployment rate stands at 4.7%. The National Youth Health Survey 2013 also found that 55% of respondents weren’t aware of reproductive health services in their region while suicide is considered one of the leading causes of death in adolescents and youth in Sri Lanka.   
There are over 4.4 million young people in Sri Lanka with diverse needs. Young people-both rich and poor-with disabilities, HIV+ youth or either belonging to youth LGBTI communities live in rural and urban areas. Investing in to each and every one of these 4.4 million people by creating inclusive access to quality education, knowledge and skills is key in ensuring meaningful employment and livelihoods. This will in turn empower and enable more youth to join their peers in working towards a more just and equitable society.   


"Talking about these skilled young men and women, their approaches to peacebuilding varied as their backgrounds. But every single one of them unified in their commitment and passion, actively contributing to a peaceful and unified Sri Lanka"

Empowerment alone isn’t enough.   
It’s our responsibility as leaders to listen to the voices of youth, to ensure they are included in decision making, in areas that affect them, in ways that decision makers seldom imagine.   
Harnessing the potential of youth is essential to achieve sustainable peace. Inclusive participation of youth in the decision making processes at all levels of governance is essential to achieve sustainable peace. Applying the resourcefulness, openness and energy of Sri Lanka’s multi-cultural youth is essential to achieve sustainable peace.   
Youth is indefinitely Sri Lanka’s best hope at achieving durable, lasting peace.   
This is why, the UN Agencies in Sri Lanka are facilitating several engagements between young people and a multitude of stakeholders, including the Government, civil society, private sector and development partners through the UN Peacebuilding Fund.   
This International Youth Day, we celebrate the tremendous contributions young people make to their communities and the world to build peaceful societies. Let us also not fail to recommit to work with or for Sri Lanka’s youth. They form the most valuable force we have to shape a better future for us.     

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