Time to take youth seriously | Sunday Observer

Time to take youth seriously

While Sri Lanka’s bloodiest carnage of extremism was experienced five months ago, on April 21, a pre-Easter Sunday attack study on youth involvement in peace and violence, had found that twenty five percent of the study subjects believed their peers were attracted to violent extremism, it was revealed as the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in Sri Lanka marked the International Day of Peace, earlier this week, at the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute. The event consisted of the launch of the key findings of a study on ‘The Potential Role of Young Leaders and Volunteers in Preventing Violent Extremism in Sri Lanka’ and the launch of the ‘Youth Peace Panel’

“Sri Lanka is sitting on top of a volcano when it comes to violent extremism and its potential to lure in youth,” stressed Prof. Gamini Keerawella, Executive Director of the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies, who presented the key findings of the study. “While a majority of young people are of the view that conditions within the country have improved since the end of the war, we cannot be complaisant. A well-coordinated plan of action at national and provincial levels to utilise skills and capabilities of youth leaders and volunteers must be systematically set up,” he added.

Commissioned by UNFPA and UN Volunteers (UNV) in September 2018, the study was conducted by the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies (RCSS), with a sample size of 2,800 young people between the ages 15-29 years from the Northern, Eastern, Southern, and Central Provinces. While the field study was carried out pre-Easter Sunday attacks, from November to December 2018, the findings revealed that 25 per cent of Sri Lankan youth from the four provinces believed that their peers are attracted to ideologies of violent extremism.

“In order to include young people as partners for peace, policy makers and social leaders must view young people from a positive perspective and recognise their active and important role in peace building” the study noted in its recommendations. Ensuring equality of all ethnic identities as the constituent elements of Sri Lankan identity; initiating inter-ethnic dialogue to promote multi-ethnicity; ensuring youth-centered political reforms and de-politicisation of youth programs; decreasing the gap between youth capabilities and opportunities; addressing youth-based grievances by giving them priority; identifying pathways from radicalisation to violent extremism and addressing radicalisation to prevent it from transferring to extremism; mobilising faith leaders and promoting role models for youth; and fostering a culture of volunteerism are other recommendations of the study.

The event also saw the launch of the ‘Youth Peace Panel’, an independent and nonpartisan group of young leaders that aim to connect young people at grassroots level with key decision-making stakeholders and platforms to contribute towards peace building efforts in Sri Lanka. The 30 young leaders of the ‘Youth Peace Panel’, representing the nine-provinces and will be working, as a closely-knit group, across the country.

The Chief Guest, V. Sivagnanasothy, Secretary to the Ministry of National Policies, Economic Affairs and Youth Affairs, commended the UN agencies for mobilizing young people to build a peaceful society. “As a nation, we must ensure that systematic approaches are in place to harness the energy of young people to ensure peaceful coexistence. Youth play a crucial role in sustaining peace, and we must engage them in the peace building process,” he said.

Speaking on the importance of the Youth Peace Panel, UN Resident Coordinator in Sri Lanka, Hanaa Singer, pointed out encouraging communication between people and groups who don’t share the same worldviews or life experiences is an essential part of preventing violent extremism.

“Young people by interacting with their peers come to understand the underlying causes of exclusion and address these by finding common ground on which they can build trust.

Only they can find ways to showcase and celebrate diversity as a strength and not a threat. I hope the Youth Peace Panel will be a platform for young peacebuilders to begin these conversations that will build trust and understanding between communities.”

In sentiments echoed on Youth, Dishani Seneviratne, a Youth panelist claimed, Youth are not taken seriously. There is a lot of skepticism, she pointed out.

Kamanthi Wickramasinghe ,an award-winning journalist cum panelist, Speaking on the modus-operandi of how print media ought to distance itself, from extremism and violence, floating in the media insisted editors and senior hands, should be consulted, in sticking in-line with media ethics. She also pointed out that there is a scarcity of investigative journalists tackling grave issues due to dangers like death threats and having to resort to exile.