Youth building Peace: Sri Lanka’s best hope

By Una McCauley – UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative


In September of 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.

Skilled young men and women, their approaches to peacebuilding as 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; Youth building Peace, is especially relevant for Sri Lanka.

Just over a month ago, the UN Secretary General, António Guterresappointed one such champion, Sri Lanka’s own Jayathma Wickramanayake, his 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 has always been its greatest, yet most under estimated asset.

According to the Sri Lanka National Human Development Report (NHDR 2014), 68.5% of youth surveyed believed in the right to be treated equally and without discrimination, a positive indication that youth see equality as key to social integration and their role in promoting it. However young people today face many challenges in education, employment, sexual and reproductive health and more, which seriously undermine their ability to reach their full potential.

Only 8% of schools offer GCE A/L in science, arts and commerce while 20% only 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 respondentswere not 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 Lankawith diverse needs. Young people with disabilities, HIV+ youth, young LGBTI communities, rich and poor, in rural and urban areas. Investing in each and every one of these 4.4 million bycreating inclusive access to quality education, knowledge and skills is key in ensuring meaningful employment and livelihoods which in turn will empower and enable more youth to join their peers in working towards a more just and equitable society.

But empowerment alone is not enough.

It is our responsibility as leaders to listen to the voices of youth, to ensure they are included in decisions that often affect them in ways that decision makers seldom imagine.

Harnessing the potential of youth is essential to achieving sustainable peace. Inclusive participation of youth in decision making processes at all levels of governance is essential to achieving sustainable peace. Applying the resourcefulness, openness and energy of Sri Lanka’s multi-cultural youth is essential to achieving 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, and for, the youth of Sri Lanka -the most valuable force we have to shape a better future for us all.