Youth, armed violence and job creation programmes

In response to growing evidence from the social science literature about the links between youth unemployment and armed conflict, donors have increasingly used youth job creation programmes as a tool with which to address armed violence. Many donors now identify addressing youth unemployment as an urgent priority, both in the field of peacebuilding and in efforts to foster economic development. Donor armed violence reduction (AVR) strategies have begun to deploy a range of multi-sectoral interventions, including job creation, although AVR integration into donor strategies remains relatively rare.

This rapid mapping study reviews donor approaches to addressing armed violence through youth job creation programmes. It covers a range of programmes including reintegration programmes, early recovery and cash for work programmes; as well as integrated AVR programmes that involve youth job creation components.

The study finds that both the theoretical and the empirical cases for using youth employment programmes as a stand-alone tool for reducing violent conflict are extremely weak. Donor interventions have been poorly evaluated and evidence of success is usually limited to demonstrating increases in employment levels, with little effort made to assess the impact on conflict. The evidence on using job creation as part of an integrated or comprehensive armed conflict or AVR strategy is stronger: some government-led initiatives in countries that experience high levels of armed violence (such as Brazil and South Africa) have shown clear positive results in reducing levels of armed violence.

The study finds that donor approaches to reduce armed violence through job creation schemes have become more nuanced and sophisticated. There has been a growing emphasis on ‘holistic’, ‘comprehensive’ and ‘integrated’ approaches that go beyond simply addressing a lack of economic opportunities and seek to address the more complex array of factors that cause social exclusion for young people. These initiatives combine and integrate job-creation schemes with a range of other forms of intervention, such as capacity-building and training in conflict resolution. In a similar way AVR strategies have moved beyond a narrow focus on controlling arms and reducing the demand for weapons, towards more comprehensive strategies that address a range of risk factors associated with armed violence. Donors have also sought to make job creation schemes more effective by conducting more rigorous contextual analysis. They have also looked to improve the effectiveness and relevance of these schemes by working more closely with the private sector and tackling the demand-side of youth unemployment. Despite this progress, there is a still a significant gap between donor rhetoric and practice in this area.

The literature has been slightly hampered by the difficulty of identifying a stable definition of youth. For the purposes of this report, the UN’s definition of youth which refers to persons between the ages of 15 and 24 years old will be adopted. This study sees youth as a transitional state between childhood and adulthood, and between the family and society. The particular stage in a young person’s life that this transition takes place or is deemed to take place is dependent upon the socio-cultural context. This study focuses specifically on donor responses that link youth unemployment and armed violence in post-conflict societies. Since most donor initiatives have focused on addressing the risk of the organised forms of violence associated with armed conflict, this paper is slightly more focused on these initiatives than on integrated AVR initiatives that have explicitly utilised job creation as a tool for reducing criminal or inter-personal violence. In reality, these different forms of violence are closely (and increasingly) linked and the lessons of best practice that emerge from these two areas of practice overlap considerably.

Suggested citation

Walton, O. (2010). Youth, Armed Violence and Job Creation Programmes. A rapid mapping study. Birmingham, UK: GSDRC, University of Birmingham.