In the news: Research on youth violence opens eyes to injustices that must be addressed

Afghanistan, Colombia, Somalia

February 20, 2015

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This week, the White House convened a Summit on Countering Violent Extremism to tackle the subject of how people are recruited and radicalized to commit violent acts both domestically and abroad.

At the same time, our research team released a new three-country report, Youth & Consequences, which evaluates the factors that propel young people to take up arms.

More than half of the world’s population is under 30, and there are more than 300,000 child soldiers worldwide, making the subject of youth in conflict especially relevant to the White House’s efforts to reduce violent extremism.

Keith Proctor, Mercy Corps’ Senior Policy Researcher and author of the report, shared his insights this week with Vice News:

"For a long time there has been an 'economics of terrorism' narrative that suggested that young people join terrorist groups because they don't have meaningful employment…

What we found is that unemployment status is a very poor predictor of whether a person is going to join an insurgent group or not…A far better predictor is the experience of injustice, discrimination, marginalization, being on the receiving end of corruption, and experiences of physical violence and being abused by police, security forces, or having a family member killed.”

While we implement many youth employment programs in order to strengthen communities around the world, we believe it is important to examine whether or not we are getting to the root causes of youth violence in order to find lasting solutions to such global insecurity.

Based on our work, surveys and interviews with youth in Afghanistan, Colombia and Somalia, we found that injustice, not employment or poverty, is the key driver.

Andrea Koppel, Mercy Corps’ VP of Global Engagement and Policy, also spoke with CNN about what we have learned from the study and how it ought to shape public policy:

“How do you address these grievances? That answer is a fairly complex one… We need to have a more holistic approach. We need to be looking at [youths’] psychosocial needs…

There is a true dearth of research out there that gets at the root of some of those questions, and one of the things that we would appeal to the Obama administration and other governments to do is to fund more research.”

Groups like the Taliban, FARC, and Al-Shabaab continue to actively recruit new members as political unrest and conflict persist across the globe, and youth are among the most at-risk for recruitment.

Mercy Corps makes it a priority to ensure that its youth programs and policy efforts take a holistic approach in giving youth brighter futures, which is why the Youth & Consequences report and others like it are indispensable.