Children and Youth

Children and Youth

ICTJ’s Children and Youth Program seeks to open spaces for the active participation of young people in transitional justice processes and to have those processes better reflect their needs and perspectives.

Benghazi, Libya, March 2011 - children sing "We will stay here, We will fight" (Ty Cacek/Redux)

Children and youth are particularly vulnerable to egregious human rights violations during conflict or dictatorial rule.

The figures are astounding. According to the UN, as of 2010, over 1 billion children worldwide were living in territories affected by armed conflict, and over one-quarter of them were under the age of five. This means that the “average” civilian victim—a person killed, injured, or forced to flee from home—is likely to be a child or youth.

Some, as survivors of sexual violence, torture, forced recruitment, or other forms of abuse, are left with psychological trauma and permanent physical injuries, such as mutilations or amputations.

Others have had to fend for themselves after losing or being separated from a parent or guardian, sometimes while caring for younger siblings. Some, years after a war or period of repression has ended, as a result of the abuses they have been subjected to, continue to live in poverty and miss out on years of schooling – sometimes as a direct consequence of ongoing social stigma and discrimination.. And sometimes they are at the receiving end of the effects of abuses by their parents or grandparents, their lives and communities shaped by violations that took place before they were born.

It is children and youth like this, those who are living the legacies of such troubled past, that we work with and for. Our goal is to ensure that decision-makers recognize that have the right to redress – and the right to express their views on what happened to them and how they envisage moving forward.

Why is it important to engage children and youth in transitional justice?

Where efforts are taking place to address past wrongs, the roles and voices of children and youth are needed to show the full picture of what happened, who was harmed, and how it continues to affect people’s lives.

Yet, as countries search for ways to reckon and provide justice for abuses that can be so numerous and systematic that ordinary justice systems simply cannot cope, they can easily overlook children’s interests and perspectives. This failure can occur due to the relative disempowerment of children in general, and of child victims in particular, compounded by their lack of representation in and by political entities and civil society organizations.

Recognizing children and youth as a special category of victims and understanding their unique needs is critical to breaking inter-generational cycles of abuse and impunity. It represents an investment not just in tackling injustice, but in building societies where egregious violations will not be seen as acceptable.

The success and transformative effect of transitional justice in any society in part depends on the active participation and engagement of all affected groups — including youth. Young people often have the greatest potential to challenge politics of dehumanization and hatred, and to imagine the changes needed to make a better future and redress the wrongs of the past.

Engaging Children and Youth in Transitional Justice Processes

Transitional justice mechanisms such as truth-seeking, institutional reform, reparations and criminal tribunals can be powerful tools to address the effects of violations perpetrated against young people. They can also raise awareness about the overall effects of conflict and repression to help prevent recurrence.

The transformative effect of these efforts in part depends on the active participation and engagement of youth. Young people often have the greatest potential to challenge and halt cycles of violence and hatred, and to imagine the changes needed to secure a better future and redress the wrongs of the past.

ICTJ’s Vision

ICTJ’s Children and Youth program, since its inception in 2008, has advanced the understanding of how to include young people safely and effectively in transitional justice processes, post-conflict dialogue, reconciliation, and community-rebuilding efforts. The evolution of attitudes towards acknowledging children’s rights has led to better strategies for children and youth to participate in transitional justice proceedings, both as victims and citizens.

Fundamentally, ICTJ has focused on providing opportunity, redress, and justice to children and youth, as one of the world’s most important and overlooked populations of victims.

We have advocated for young people’s participation in transitional justice processes so that societies undergoing transition can recognize their capacity as change makers and foster their involvement in the political and social process.
We also work with governments, civil society, educators, and others to promote a clearer understanding of how the agency of young people can be genuinely recognized. In doing so, we seek to raise the possibility that young people will contribute to building awareness among other children and youth about their rights, capacity for active citizenship, and role in the long-term struggle for accountability and social change.

Time and again, we have seen how including children and youth significantly increases the potential that these process will have a longer-term impact.

“It is only by understanding conflicts and what led to them that we can then be able to address the root causes so as to prevent future occurrences.” – Kenyan youth on ICTJ’s child-friendly version of the TJRC Report

ICTJ's Impact

ICTJ works with young victims, civil society organizations, and policymakers to ensure that children and youth are integrated into discussions about transitional justice mechanisms and how they are implemented.

Country-Specific Work

  • Canada: To address the legacy of the Indian Residential Schools, the Canadian government established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), ICTJ had a long-term engagement with the TRC, notably working with young people and TRC staff to develop new methods of engaging youth and supporting various youth-led initiatives. At the TRC’s closing ceremony in Ottawa in 2015, ICTJ launched “The Truth in the Classroom: Canadian Youth Want to Learn about the Country’s Dark Past,” a multimedia advocacy and education tool based on consultations with over 100 Canadian students, which features Canadian students calling for the Indian Residential School Legacy to be taught more thoroughly in schools across Canada.

  • Côte d’Ivoire: In response to the post-election violence of 2010, we partnered with UNICEF to bring together youth leaders interested in truth seeking and peacebuilding to build their advocacy networks and provided them with training on the basic principles of peacebuilding and transitional justice. After, these youth leaders organized a series of dialogues within their organizations and recorded an audio report based on testimonies they had collected, which was converted into a series of radio programs that were broadcast locally. They also formed their own association to continue their transitional justice and peacebuilding work, called Reseau Action Justice et Paix. We also worked with country’s truth commission (Commission Dialogue, Verité, et Reconciliation) to improve its ability to safely engage young victims in the national truth-seeking process. Specifically, we developed a form to gather statements from children and an accompanying methodology to guide statement-takers during interviews with children, and trained statement-takers in child-friendly interviewing techniques.

“Unfortunately, the authorities do not appear to assimilate the concerns of children and young victims into their plans. It is truly difficult for a victim like me, whose parents don’t have any money, to take charge of my own situation. Thanks to the contribution of the ICTJ I have hopes that youth will be taken into account in the reparations process.” – Ivorian Youth, Member of Justice and Peace Action Network

  • Colombia: During Colombia’s long-running internal armed conflict, children were illegally recruited by armed groups on all sides to serve as child soldiers. ICTJ has made important contributions to the reintegration and reparation of former child soldiers, including through the release of a comprehensive report on the issue, containing practical, actionable recommendations.

  • Uganda: During internal conflicts in Uganda, many girls and women were abducted by armed groups and bore children in captivity as a result of sexual violations. Since their release, the women and girls – and their children – have faced significant challenges in reintegrating back into their communities. To help end the stigma against them and improve their access to state services, ICTJ conducted an extensive assessment of the challenges facing these mothers and their children born of conflict, and identified policy options. ICTJ’s findings and recommendations were published as a report, From Rejection to Redress: Overcoming Legacies of Conflict-Related Sexual Violence in Northern Uganda, which was shared with victims and relevant local and national policymakers – and made into a short documentary film featuring two women survivors.

“Being a war-affected person cannot prevent me from being either a doctor or the President of Uganda.” - 19-year-old male from Oyam District, Northern Uganda.


  • ICTJ conducted comprehensive research in Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, and Nepal on the successes and shortcomings of projects aimed at involving children in transitional justice processes. This culminated in the release of a ground-breaking report, “Through a New Lens: A Child-Sensitive Approach to Transitional Justice.”
  • ICTJ’s Children and Youth program and Research Unit, in partnership with UNICEF, conducted a two-year research project to develop innovative strategies for engaging children and youth in justice and peacebuilding efforts through education and, ultimately, help prevent the recurrence of human rights abuses. This culminated in a high-level roundtable meeting in New York attended by international practitioners and policy makers.

Policy-Level Work

  • ICTJ collaborated with UNICEF to produce a publication on Children and Truth Commissions, examining how truth commissions can incorporate children's participation in a sensitive and meaningful manner. We also took part in preparing UNICEF’s Children and Transitional Justice Key Principles Document, which outlines overarching considerations for involving children in truth-seeking processes.
  • Based on a comparative review of past and current efforts to engage children and youth as part of outreach programming for transitional justice measures, ICTJ published “Engaging Children and Youth in Transitional Justice Processes”, a practically oriented tool that provides ideas for the development of youth and child-tailored outreach programs.
  • ICTJ President David Tolbert addressed the UN Security Council in September 2012 as part of the Open Debate on Children and Armed Conflict.