SEATTLE, Washington — The Youth, Peace and Security Act of 2020 recognizes the importance of youth involvement and leadership in peace-building and conflict-prevention activities. The Act directs the State Department and the President to take meaningful steps to enable and encourage young people to participate in the promotion of peace and security. If enacted, the Act would require the President to appoint a coordinator to implement this strategy by providing grants and technical assistance to youth-led, peace-building organizations and individuals. The development aid provided under this act would be managed by youth leaders.
The History of Youth Participation in Social Movements
Throughout history, youth activists have played leading roles in social movements all around the world. Here are just a few:
1968: In the spring of 1968, university students in many countries protested for several different reasons. In Warsaw, 20,000 students rallied against government censorship. In Paris, just as many students protested against the De Gaulle administration for several reasons. This inspired unions and teachers to do the same. Student activists were also very involved in anti-Vietnam War protests.
1976: Thousands of public school students in Soweto, South Africa led a peaceful march against apartheid. The protest turned violent when police brutally suppressed protesters with guns and tear gas. The event led to a global campaign against apartheid. It placed economic stress on the South African government. This was among the factors that led to the end of the government’s cruel and discriminatory practices.
1989: Likewise, youth activists were central to the movement for democratic reforms and economic liberalization that swept through China in 1989. Hundreds of thousands of people protested around the country and demanded more freedoms. However, those uprisings were suppressed in the horrific Tiananmen Square massacre when thousands of Chinese soldiers attacked protesters, including unarmed students, with tanks and guns.
The Youth, Peace, and Security Act of 2020
Representative Grace Meng [D-NY-6] introduced H.R. 6174: Youth, Peace and Security Act of 2020 on March 10, 2020, after which it went on to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. The bill is in the first stage of the legislative process and currently has three cosponsors (2R, 1D). The Act, which defines “youth” as individuals between the ages of 16-30, expresses the following Congressional findings:
More than 1 billion people are affected by violence around the world every year.
There are 1.8 billion young people around the world. In many countries affected by conflict and violence, youth represent a majority of the population.
Young people and youth-led movements can and play vital roles in the de-escalation of conflict. This prevention of recurring cycles of violence improves social cohesion and fosters a culture of peace.
Youth are “under-represented in peacebuilding and conflict prevention, […] post-conflict relief and recovery efforts.”
The Act argues that the U.S. should support youth-led peace and security approaches to reducing violence. Preventive measures are more effective and sustainable than “hard-security response.”
Given these findings, the Youth, Peace and Security Act of 2020 calls on the U.S. to promote the “meaningful participation of youth in peacebuilding and conflict prevention, management and resolution.” This involves bolstering these youth efforts through diplomatic programs. The Act calls on the U.S. government to consider “age- and gender-responsive policies” in the design of U.S. foreign aid programs.
The Need for Youth Participation
Several peace-focused NGOs, including the Alliance for Peacebuilding, Peace Direct and the United Network of Young Peacebuilders among others, welcomed the Youth, Peace and Security Act of 2020. These organizations note that the Act would increase youth participation in peacebuilding. Conflict prevention is a priority for foreign policy and benefits peacebuilding efforts around the world.
– Sarah Frazer