A substantial body of evidence demonstrates that youth and community participation is a crucial resource not only for individual youth achievement, but also for catalyzing and sustaining government improvement and for building leadership and governance cultures that support all young men and women.
South Sudan has a population of 8.26 million and 72% of the population is below the age of 30 (SSNBS, Census 2008). Although youth are the majority, their unemployment rate is dramatically high in South Sudan, thus increasing the risk of youth to revert to social unrest and conflict. Due to the large youth cohort, they are both victims and perpetrators in South Sudan’s ongoing conflicts. They are manipulated by those in power and conscripted as soldiers – or caught up in cross-fire as victims. Lack of income and opportunities for work make them vulnerable to recruitment into gangs and militia. As a result of lack of rule of law and policies that address these youth issues, there is no space where they can effectively meet to discuss problems directly affecting them and develop ways to address those issues.
Youth can be mobilized through their ethnicity, identity or religion to do good things/ foster positive change or to fight. This potential could be harness to advocate for essential changes necessary for them.
In the modern context of lawlessness, insecurity, and self-reliance, the role of male youth as protectors continues to grow in importance (Simonse 2005). The inability of the state to provide security is in direct opposition to the increasing reliance communities have on their own youth for protection. Understanding the traditional role that youth play in pastoralist versus urban societies is thus of vast importance in understanding the escalating violence.
Without opportunities for participation, youth cannot develop to achieve their full potential. Historically, the youth in south Sudan have played key role in calls for social change, yet they generally have little say in matters that directly affect them with adults generally making decision themselves. Too often, youth’s voices aren’t respected or included in decision-making processes that affect them. Youth problems include but not limited to – high unemployment rate, lack of participation in political processes and decision making, forceful recruitment, lack of opportunities for growth and self-learning, lack of political space for youth, tribalism, forced and early marriage for young girls etc.
Also among the ethnic communities in South Sudan, decision-making is normally the prerogative of adults. In addition, cultural norms and tradition fuels community resistance to young people’s efforts toward assuming greater responsibility and spearheading positive change in society. As a result, youth have been raised to be relatively passive and part of community defense structure that does not question authority, or stand for their rights. Therefore there is urgent need to provide youth with forums to engage and get to know each other beyond social divides and advocate for issues affecting them.
SSIDO currently implement a Youth Advocacy Project (YAP) which focuses on strengthening capacities of youth, developing advocacy skills and creating youth networks by implementing advocacy activities and facilitating dialogue among youth – or with politicians, policy makers, civil society representatives and entrepreneurs. YAP engages youth, and makes them part of the process towards creating stability and enduring peace in post-conflict South Sudan.
Lack of youth participation in community/national governing structures has led to widening gap between youth and public officials, disunity, distrust, tribal clashes, and lack of policy to harness youth potential and address pertinent issues of their interest etc.
This is a unique program that aims to bring youth to dialogue on their issues, organize themselves to influence state and national policies development and possibly to establish youth networks as part of civil society and non-state actors to take action in areas of advocacy on youth issues.
Youth advocacy activities specifically focuses on;
- Increasing youth participation in political processes, interest groups and unions, etc.
- Addressing unemployment by creating job opportunities and influencing state and national governments to develop policies or legislation that focuses on encouraging multi-stakeholder actions on improving the socioeconomic position of youth.
- Development/enactment of existing legislations to addresses forced and early marriage.
- Influence state and armed actors to fully comply with and implement existing national policies/legislation regarding forced recruitment of youth and minors in to army or other armed groups