A guide for those who must develop and execute programs and policies regarding the specific circumstances surrounding children who are in the criminal justice system charged with committing acts of terrorism or violent extremism.
In consideration of the increasing number of individuals under the age of eighteen who are charged with terrorism offenses, the GCTF has set forth good practices as part of their Life Cycle Initiative to enhance the existing juvenile justice system as it relates to a counterterrorism context. This memo serves as a guide to practitioners and policymakers alike who must develop and execute programs and policies regarding the specific circumstances surrounding children who are in the criminal justice system charged with committing acts of terrorism or violent extremism.
The document is divided into sections regarding:
- The particular status of children
- Preventive activities to help minimize the number of children who are drawn to commit acts of terrorism
- Prosecution and adjudication of juveniles
- Rehabilitation and reintegration of juveniles
- Capacity building and evaluation
The good practices draw extensively on accepted legal frameworks for addressing juveniles who are charged with committing terrorism and emphasize the relevance of international law and international juvenile justice standards in guiding countries’ efforts. They recommend considering the specific issues associated with children, especially their level of maturity and their development. While many juveniles will be prosecuted primarily through the juvenile justice system, some individuals may be tried in adult courts and in these cases, countries are encouraged to consider appropriate juvenile protections.
"Programs should strive to restore links between children and their families, peers, community, and society, where appropriate. Programs may be tailored to the cultural and religious background of the targeted child…Rehabilitation and reintegration processes and policies benefit from open communication, and coordination and collaboration between judicial and prison authorities, juvenile support organizations, and social service organizations.”
Explicit steps should be taken to prevent youths’ stigmatization during the criminal justice process, and if detained, individualized rehabilitation and reintegration programs should be developed. Such programs will likely be successful if they are embedded with monitoring and evaluation mechanisms, and if professionals involved in the juvenile justice system receive specialized training to deal with children offenders.
In the news and media
When they received a call from the hysterical parents of a young man who had gone missing, a group of policemen from the small town of Aarhus devised an alternative method to deal with youths that joined ISIS. Their approach, called the “Aarhus model,” differs from Europe’s harsh responses: the Danish officers make it clear to those “who had traveled to Syria that they were welcome to come home” and that the officers would do whatever it took to fully integrate them back into society. Since the initial exodus of youths from Denmark, very few have left Aarhus. Of the 34 who have, 18 have fully reintegrated through the “Aarhus model.”
This short clip from Devex features an interview with Zineb Benalla, director of the Transnational Initiative Countering Violent Extremism. She explains how her team worked to prevent and reverse youth radicalization in Mali by supplying books, plays, and novellas written by Muslim scholars, Greek philosophers (like Sophocles), and assorted poets (like Khalil Gibran). These books, Benalla states, promote critical thinking and open their minds to alternative, non-violent ideologies.
Notable Quotations from the Neuchatel Memorandum
“Children may be affected by terrorism in many ways - as victims, witnesses, and offenders. One recent trend in global terrorism is the high number of children that are radicalized to violence, recruited, and involved in terrorism-related activities. Increasingly, children are recruited by terrorist groups within or outside their country. Some are abducted or forcibly recruited, some are enticed by promises of money or other material advantages, some join voluntarily, and some have little or no choice but to accompany their parents or other family members.”
“Many factors lead to the vulnerability of children and their potential recruitment and radicalization to violence for terrorism purposes. Potential factors identified in children who have been recruited and/or radicalized for terrorism purposes include: exclusion and discrimination; lack of access to education; domestic violence; lack of social relations; poor economic background and unemployment; prior petty offending; time in juvenile custody; and the appeal of money offered by terrorist groups.”
“Diversion programs that intend to target children radicalized to violence or recruited for terrorism-related offenses should include disengagement and de-radicalization components as well as educational elements, vocational training, and psychological support, all aimed at supporting reintegration.”
“A juvenile justice system should have a rehabilitative goal while still respecting the proportionality between the individual circumstances of the child and the gravity of the offense. Recognizing that mitigating factors may render alternatives to incarceration appropriate, children should be considered for sentences not involving imprisonment measures even for terrorism-related offenses.”
Good Practices Breakdown
This section will be used to highlight key initiatives being led by governments around the world which are advancing the GCTF’s lifecycle initiative