Advancing Youth, Peace, and Security in the Asia-Pacific Region: A Stocktake and Review

by Bhasker Kafle and Mridul Upadhyay

September 18, 2023

To address the challenges of shrinking civic spaces, there is a pressing need for initiatives that ensure the protection of youth and their rights.

With over 1.1 billion young people living in the Asia-Pacific, it is crucial to harness their potential in building sustainable peace and security. But are we doing enough in this field? Do we have sufficient data to assess and make future strategies?

In its attempt to make informed decisions and bring visibility, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) recently conducted a comprehensive mapping and review of youth peacebuilding programs in the Asia-Pacific region. It aimed to shed light on the current state of the Youth, Peace, and Security (YPS) programming in the region, identify gaps and challenges in its implementation, and provide recommendations for a way forward. 

The YPS agenda, established through United Nations Security Council resolution 2250 in 2015, recognizes the positive role of young women and men in peacebuilding. It encompasses five key pillars: participation, protection, prevention, partnerships, and disengagement and reintegration. However, while more than seven years have passed since then, the implementation of the agenda in the region has been limited. 

After reviewing over 500 initiatives of the last five years, the mapping identified 140 regional, subregional and national youth peacebuilding initiatives from 27 countries in the Asia Pacific, implemented by various stakeholders, including UNDP, other UN agencies, INGOs and youth-led organizations.

About a fifth (19%) of all the mapped initiatives were youth-led (organized/implemented by youth) i.e. trainings, advocacy or research etc by youth-led organizations, with or without the support of other stakeholders. This highlights the need for greater youth participation and leadership in peacebuilding efforts at all levels. Still, only a few initiatives focused on strengthening sustainable youth advocacy to achieve greater youth participation. Additionally, limited outreach and inadequate diversity considerations further hinder the engagement of young people in peacebuilding initiatives.

The protection pillar has received limited attention so far. Legal literacy and youth rights programs focused on youth peacebuilding are scarce and there is a lack of support for young individuals wrongly prosecuted during peaceful protests. To address the challenges of shrinking civic spaces, there is a pressing need for initiatives that ensure the protection of youth and their rights.

Prevention emerged as a dominant theme, with most of the initiatives focused on media information literacy and the prevention of violent extremism. PVE projects sometimes perpetuate stereotypes and mistrust, undermining the YPS agenda's core principles. While 72% of the programs employ a training approach but there appears to be a lack of comprehensive needs assessments to tailor programs to the specific needs and capacities of youth. Holistic empowerment of youth requires comprehensive approaches that promote meaningful youth inclusion, engagement and protection. 

Partnerships, inter-generational dialogue, and mentorship were found to be underdeveloped areas within the YPS agenda in the region. There are no examples in this mapping of establishing youth peace advisory councils. Further, while youth social entrepreneurship incubation programs existed, there was a lack of support for youth-led peacebuilding NGOs.

Overall, there is a need to support countries in the region in developing youth-inclusive national strategies, frameworks and plans to implement the YPS agenda. In doing so, there should be a sufficient focus on the United Nations Leave No One Behind (LNOB) approach. For that, relevant and sufficient indicators to measure the engagement of and impact on youth groups must be set and defined in the programme’s design phase itself.

To strengthen the YPS agenda in the Asia-Pacific region, this mapping offers several recommendations:

  1. Foster Youth Participation: Design initiatives that enable youth to actively participate in decision-making processes and promote their leadership in peacebuilding efforts. Establish long-term mentorship programs and other leadership mechanisms to support youth to engage in national YPS implementation and peacebuilding governance.

  2. Enhance Protection: Lessons can be drawn from UNDP’s work on human rights and environment/climate, which could serve as models for developing legal literacy and youth rights programs in the youth peacebuilding field. Address gender-based violence and ensure the safety and security of young people engaging in peaceful protests and activism.

  3. Promote Holistic Prevention: Conduct comprehensive needs assessments to inform program design and address the diverse capacities and knowledge of youth. Promote peace education, conflict transformation, creative challenges and holistic empowerment for prevention, while avoiding the stigmatization of the majority of young people as potential extremists. Support youth-led peacebuilding NGOs through incubators and capacity-building initiatives.

  4. Forge Partnerships: Establish youth peace advisory councils and youth-led coalitions to facilitate collaboration among UN agencies and youth. Raise flexible, accessible and participatory funding for youth-led peacebuilding organisations. Foster intergenerational dialogue to bridge gaps and promote peacebuilding in communities. 

  5. Focus on Disengagement and Reintegration: Develop programs for the rehabilitation and reintegration of radicalized youth, including gang members, criminals, and former terrorists, as needed. Offer support and resources to facilitate their transition towards peaceful and productive lives.

The detailed report of this stocktake and review of youth peacebuilding programs in the Asia-Pacific region can be accessed here which highlights the need for increased efforts to advance the YPS agenda. UNDP has been advocating for data for development. We hope this data analysis will not only help us make informed decisions but such visibility will also bring pressure for policies that respond to the needs.