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.
Children and youth are especially vulnerable to the effects of conflict and gross human rights violations. They are often specific targets of human rights abuse due to their age and societal status. Children and youth also risk losing the benefits of education, adequate healthcare and other services at the time in their lives when these are critical to their development, often with long-term consequences.
In many regions where transitional justice work is being done, children and youth comprise more than half of the affected population. Yet they often have little role or voice in these processes.
The changing nature of conflict and the evolution of the child-rights framework has led to more inclusive strategies for children and youth to participate in transitional justice proceedings, both as victims and citizens. While these are important advances, working with children and youth in transitional justice processes remains a nascent development, with many important areas in need of further exploration and innovative practice.
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 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 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.
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.
Kenya: The country’s Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC), established after the post-election violence of 2007-2008, was tasked with investigating, analyzing, and reporting on gross human rights violations that occurred between 1963 and 2008. To generate dialogue and debate among young people about the legacy of violations, justice, and reform, ICTJ produced an educational booklet titled, Learning from Our Past: An Exploration of Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation in Kenya, based on the TJRC’s final report, to be used by educators and students. The teaching tool is designed to encourage students to critically reflect on Kenya’s past and explore ways of becoming active and engaged citizens concerned with accountability for past abuses and strengthening democratic principles.
Cyprus: To facilitate dialogue and increase student engagement about the legacy of conflict in this small island state that has been divided since 1974, ICTJ partnered with the Association for Historical Dialogue and Research (AHDR) and The Elders to produce a set of educational materials, called Thinking Historically about Missing Persons: A Guide for Teachers.