Youth Aim for Active Citizenship and Empowered Futures through Rule of Law Education and Outreach
Written by Aubrey Hamilton, Rule of Law Specialist, and Lucy Elundah, Security Specialist, UNDP
Speaker of the Parliament of Uganda Rebecca Kadaga. South African President Nelson Mandela. Footballer Cristiano Ronaldo. Pilots. U.S. President Barack Obama. The Bishop of Abingite College. UNDP Security Specialist Lucy Elundah. This omnium gatherum of public figures and community leaders are the role models of the students at Abingite College of Science and Technology in Yambio, South Sudan.
The list of inspirational leaders surfaced during a rule of law outreach event for 235 high school students (65 girls and 170 boys) facilitated by UNDP’s Access to Justice, Security, and Human Rights Strengthening team in Yambio in November 2020.
The event sought to raise awareness and enhance understanding of the rights held by youth and protections provided to children under South Sudanese law. Students took part in small discussion groups where they discussed their expectations and plans for life after high school, gender specific challenges and expectations, and how they hope to contribute to equality, justice, respect for human rights, peace, and opportunity within their homes, neighborhoods, and society.
“[During the workshop] I’ve discussed more about my future. The expectations that I want, the things that I want after high school, and the things that my parents want from me,” said one male participant, in conversation with Yambio 90.0 FM, a radio station based in Western Equatoria State.
“My message to people, particularly parents is — our parents should give us a chance to explore. Give us chance to use our talent, to use our ideas, to use our youth. So that we create a future that will help us and will help the country,” he added.
As the students articulated the character traits of role models who inspire them and those they seek to emulate, a common thread emerged. The students identified attributes such as public speaking skills, the ability to motivate others, work ethic, public service, and the propensity to give back to one’s community and society as the traits that most inspired them.
The determination and commitment to public service, equal justice and opportunity, and human rights amongst Yambio’s youth bodes well for sustainable rule of law development and enhanced access to justice in Western Equatoria State. However, significant hurdles remain for the children and youth in the region and throughout South Sudan.
Lack of adequate security and human rights protections contribute to the victimization of youth in South Sudan, particularly young women and girls.
Child marriage and early pregnancy remain pervasive in South Sudan, where 52 percent of all girls are married before the age of 18 years. Roughly one in every three girls become pregnant before turning 15 years old, according to UNICEF. School closures as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic have led to increased risk of child marriage, early pregnancy, and GBV, compounding these issues in Western Equatoria State.
South Sudanese youth are also less likely to have equal access to quality justice. While legislation such as the Child Act codifies the protections and opportunities that should be provided to all children in South Sudan, justice institutions including customary and statutory courts struggle to sufficiently meet the needs of women and children and to consistently meet standards of justice and human rights. On the community-level, throughout South Sudan and Western Equatoria State there remains insufficient knowledge of or community support for the legal and human rights protections afforded to youth (and particularly girls).
“We children – we are really the future. The future lies in our hands. Do not lose hope in your child — even though the child has done wrong, advise the child, [send] the child to school. Do not deceive your girls for money…Do not sell your child to a man for wealth or anything. Let them value us,” one female participant shared with Yambio FM, emphasizing she was one of many school-aged girls preparing to take their national exams in March 2021.
South Sudanese youth suffer from inadequate protection and access to justice, but youth in South Sudan are not only victims of crime. Youth who are unable to realize their rights, and those facing high unemployment and limited educational, professional, or societal opportunities are more likely to be drawn into criminality and violence. Youth who have experienced trauma are vulnerable to exploitation and perpetuating cycles of violence.
In Western Equatoria State, UNDP’s approach to youth rule of law outreach hinges on dual overarching aims – the first being to mitigate the factors leading to the victimization of youth by expanding awareness and application of protections and services that safeguard, enhance, and prioritize access to justice, security, and human rights protections for youth.
The second is to address the underlying and contributing factors that draw youth into criminality and violence, to ensure that youth in conflict with the law can access justice and exercise their basic human rights, and to provide pathways for (re)integration into lawful society.
Through regular rule of law outreach in communities throughout Western Equatoria and South Sudan, UNDP’s Access to Justice, Security and Human Rights Strengthening Programme supports the development of a culture of lawfulness and tolerance that serves to break cycles of vulnerability and violence and enhance community-level understanding and respect for standards of justice, security, and human rights.
Engaging directly with youth specifically is essential for identifying early warning signs, in turn helping to prevent patterns of youth criminality and to circumvent more costly long-term interventions through the criminal justice system.
“There are people who don’t have a role model…you don’t know what you are aiming for. Today, I have really put into consideration that I must follow my role model, according to the workshop that we have gone through,” said another student interviewed by Yambio FM at the Center for the Arts at Abingite College.
Rule of law outreaches, like that organized for the 235 students at Abingite School of Science and Technology in Yambio, provide platforms for UNDP to directly support and empower the South Sudanese youth, who will benefit from and grow to assume responsibility for building and safeguarding rule of law, justice, human rights, peace and security in their neighborhoods and communities.