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Channeling adolescent potential to bring about change

BAMAKO, 23 May 2005 - Mr. Ezio Murzi, UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa, launched today in Bamako the new publication Adolescent Programming in Conflict and Post Conflict Situations. The publication provides a set of recommendations to encourage adolescent participation in community development and peace building during crises. Its conclusions are based on an analysis of good practice in eight unstable situations: Somalia, Angola, Colombia, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Occupied Palestinian Territory, Albania and Indonesia.  “Examples drawn from UNICEF’s experiences across the world show how, with proper guidance and support, adolescents can play a crucial role as peacemakers in their communities” said Murzi.

The document was launched prior to the opening of the two-day West and Central Africa Regional Consultation on the UN Study on Violence against Children, which begins tomorrow in Bamako. Twenty-three countries in the region will take part to the consultation, government representatives as well as NGOs involved in children’s issues, journalists, UN agencies, and children who have conducted research on violence in the region. Mrs Berthé Aïssata Bengaly, Minister for the Promotion of Women, Children and Families for Mali, will also be present.

The demographic realities of developing countries, particularly of post conflict countries, indicate a high number of young people compared to the rest of the population. For example, in West and Central Africa, 52% of the population is below 18 years and one third of the population is between the ages of 10 and 24. In Angola, the percentage of population under 24 years old reaches 75%. National development plans and policies cannot ignore the perceptions, aspirations and expectations of these high proportions of young people in post conflict countries.

The publication calls upon governments, community leaders and agencies to tap into this under-utilized source of energy and to give adolescents and young people a chance to contribute positively to the reconciliation and reconstruction of their communities.

Today, at least 50 countries are estimated to be in a state of complex emergency at any given time, and some 40% of UNICEF’s budget is spent on countries in crisis. In West and Central Africa, the list of countries in which armed conflicts occur is increasing each year. Adolescents – though still children – possess perspectives, skills and capabilities that often enable them, in difficult and conflict situations, to take on the roles of adults.

“Many still continue to view young people as instigators of violence and instability, rather than instruments for bringing about change,” said Murzi. “The key lessons learned from the publication are that, despite their extreme vulnerability and against all odds, young people have great potential to contribute and to become involved in peace processes.”

One of the lessons learned from the publication is the efficiency of peer education among children and adolescents involved in armed conflict. In 1999 in Sierra Leone, a peace agreement was signed, ending an eight-year conflict. 7,000 child ex-combatants had to be demobilized. A demobilization and reintegration programme (DDR) was then created. Alhaji Baba Sawaneh, a former child soldier with the RUF (Revolutionary United Front), took part in the DDR programme.

“It is important for you to know that the journey I have made so far has been less difficult because of the DDR programme,” he said in an address to the Security Council in November 2001. “I did bad things in the bush and I saw very bad things done to both children and adults. Removing the gun from me was a vital step for me. The programme helped me feel natural and normal again. It helped me develop ways to fit into society again.” There is evidence that the children who have been reunited and have reconciled with their families and communities can provide peer-to-peer psychological support and encourage former child soldiers to participate in reintegration.

The publication provides other innovative strategies to engage adolescents during humanitarian crises. Adolescents can be involved in a range of programme activities, including media and advocacy, sports, HIV/AIDS awareness, truth and justice-seeking in post conflict reconstruction, disarmament, demobilisation, and reintegration, as well as research on the impact of  war on children.

The document is the result of collaboration between the UNICEF country and regional offices, the Programme Division, EMOPS and the Innocent Research Centre, and the Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children.

For further information please contact:

Allison Hickling, UNICEF New York, (212) 326 -7224 ahickling@unicef.org

Natalie Fol, UNICEF Dakar, (+221) 869-5858 nfol@unicef.org




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