Young People and Emergencies

Helping Young People Affected by Crisis

Young people often represent a large proportion of those affected by crises: In some countries, two thirds of the population is under 25.

Young People from Liberia Raise their Voices Against Violence

Woloquoi Davis was just seven years old when the conflict in Liberia broke out. Rebels slaughtered his uncle and grand uncle before his very eyes. Throughout his search for safety and freedom, he witnessed rebels killing innocent civilians and looting and burning the houses and property of his community members.

Read more.

Life in crisis zones can be deeply troubling to anyone. Some of the factors that may leave young people in such situations especially vulnerable include:

  • the absence of role models
  • the breakdown of social and cultural systems
  • personal traumas such as the loss of family members
  • exposure to violence and chaos
  • the disruption of school and friendships

Such factors may lead to early sexual initiation and other high-risk behaviour, including drug and alcohol abuse. Displaced young people are particularly vulnerable to HIV, and they urgently need information and services to protect themselves from disease and unintended pregnancies.

When general information networks break down, it becomes all the more important to make sure that young people have access to basic information about HIV, as well as to other issues regarding their sexual and reproductive health. General education is vital as well, both to give young people a sense of structure and ordinary life and to build a foundation on which their societies can grow. Yet half of the world's out-of-school children live in conflict or post-conflict countries.

Those who have been severely traumatized, such as child combatants, are likely to need rehabilitation and family reunification services, as well as specialized psychological and physical health care.

In the aftermath of crises, young people with no way to earn a living may end up on the streets, be forced into selling their bodies to survive, or subjected to trafficking or other forms of exploitation. For this reason, protection programmes and the provision of vocational training and other life skills education can be instrumental in helping them put their lives back together.

UNFPA in Action

UNFPA places a high priority on safeguarding young people's well-being and broadly supporting their successful transition to adulthood. UNFPA raises awareness of and addresses the specific needs and concerns of young people affected by war or crisis, often using innovative and participatory approaches.

Moving Young, the youth edition of the State of World Population, includes first-person stories that illustrate the toll that war and displacement take on the young.

In Colombia, where at least two million people have been displaced by the 30-year internal conflict, a UNFPA-supported project uses drama, role-playing, music and dance to help young people express themselves and overcome the trauma they have experienced. Health providers visit twice a week to talk about reproductive health and prevention and offer services. Participants in the programme acquire the tools to challenge harmful aspects of gender relations, resist peer pressure, address sexual violence and raise their self-esteem, all of which can lead to healthier choices.

In Sierra Leone, a multi-faceted programme addresses the educational, psycho-social and health needs of young women traumatized and sexually exploited during the conflict in that country. It also helps them develop vocational skills and provide micro-credit to enable them to become self supporting.