Youth and Transitional Justice

Since the almost unanimous ratification of the UNCRC, there has been increased scholarly inquiry into the experiences of children in post-conflict contexts (O’Kane et al. 2009; Nosworthy 2010; UNICEF 2010; Schnabel and Tabyshalieva 2013a). A ‘rights-based’ approach has tended to guide children’s participation within the post-conflict environment, in particular, their contact with other key stakeholders. As Kemper explains, this approach is underpinned by the idea that ‘children can claim certain individual rights even in adverse situations, transcending border and conflict lines’ (2005: 14). Indeed, at the centre of this approach are the legal principles outlined in the UNCRC, specifically Articles 3 and 12 (UNCRC 1989). These articles guide agents’ interactions with children regarding the consideration of their best interests (Article 3) and the right to participation (Article 12). Furthermore, they seek to ensure that the needs of children are represented. Today, the ‘rights-based’ approach provides the normative foundation for a vast amount of scholarly work, particularly on child soldiers (Singer 2006; Drumbl 2012; Huynh et al. 2015: 89-157).

Reflecting this, children have been increasingly represented in transitional justice theory and practice. This increased representation is the result of a broad advocacy effort by children’s rights campaigners. The literature on children in the transitional justice field thus examines the reasons why children should be viewed as active agents in transitional contexts. For example, Smith contends that there is an ‘emerging consensus’ amongst practitioners and scholars that ‘transitional justice is important for children’ because they ‘inherit...the results of transition’ (2010: 33). Moreover, she suggests that children ‘far outnumber adults in many countries requiring transitional justice’ and thus ‘excluding them may exclude the majority of the affected population’ (Smith 2010: 33; see also Pruitt 2013: 1). At the centre of this research on why children should participate in transitional justice are discussions about children as stakeholders.

While youth also ‘inherit.the results of transition’ (Smith 2010: 33), their unique views and capacity as stakeholders have not produced the same degree of inquiry. In fact, the scholarly examination of youth in transitional justice contexts is extremely limited (Eyber and Ager 2004: 189-209; Utas 2004: 209-236; Hart 2008; Schwartz 2010; Pruitt 2013). Notably, because the UNCRC includes an age restriction of 18 years and under, the rights-based approach excludes a large portion of the demographic (Schwartz 2010: 8). Indeed, when they are considered, the experiences of youth are most often combined with those of children (UNICEF 2010). Moreover, their varied interests are relegated to a secondary position in the commonplace rhetoric of ‘children and youth’ (Ramirez-Barat 2012). Evidently, the needs of youth are at best conceived as an afterthought, both in practice and in most research conducted on young people in the transitional justice field. As a result, inaccurate normative assumptions persist regarding the nature of youth engagement in post-conflict practices.

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