Good Practice 3
Address children’s vulnerability to recruitment and/or radicalization to violence through preventive measures.11
In view of the increasing number of incidents, their brutality, and the complexity of the global terrorist threat, the international community has recognized the need to prevent violent extremism.12 Efforts and resources should be invested in understanding the conditions conducive to and effectively addressing the recruitment of children, and their potential radicalization to violence.
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. In addition to such factors, the cognitive and emotional vulnerabilities of children may be exploited for recruitment and radicalization to violence. Furthermore, current turmoil in States experiencing conflict has resulted in many children being displaced and exposed to greater risk. Their conditions as migrants/refugees may be protracted, causing repeated and prolonged deprivation and growing feelings of exclusion and discrimination. Moreover, there are cases of well-educated children with apparently stable family and socio-economic backgrounds who also have become radicalized.
Key indicators of a child’s path towards radicalization to violence may include shifts in a person’s social relations, behavior, and ideology. Some of these changes may include: withdrawing from existing social activities and friends; disputes with family and friends based on extreme behavior or ideas; attempts to coerce those around them to follow an extreme ideology; possession of extremist material; statements of moral superiority over, or hatred towards, other groups; statements promoting the use of violence to advance a cause or change of policy; and assaults and hate crimes on those seen as different. The internet and online social media networking are key catalysts for radicalization to violence or recruitment for terrorist purposes.
Certain children are radicalized quickly, even within weeks, while for others it is a process of months or even years. It is important to identify radicalization at an early stage. Assessment methods that are fine-tuned to identify behaviors suggesting an individual’s progression towards involvement in violent extremism should be developed, and are part of effective prevention strategies.
On the recruitment process, lessons can be learned from other crimes such as gang-related violence and sexual abuse, especially with regards to online exploitation. For instance, child grooming (either in-person or through social media) is a manipulative recruitment process that establishes a relationship with the child, fulfilling his/her emotional unmet needs and isolating him/her from family and friends.
Regardless of the type of process involved, the recruitment and use of children in hostilities is prohibited under international law.13 States should criminalize the recruitment and use of children by non-state armed groups, and consider recruitment and use of children for terrorism-related offenses as an aggravating circumstance in punishment
In order to be effective, a comprehensive prevention strategy should be grounded in international law, in particular international human rights law, and should be based on sound indicators and empirical experience, but must pay particular attention to not stigmatize people or entire communities.
11 See also the GCTF’s Abu Dhabi Memorandum on Good Practices for Education and Countering Violent Extremism and Ankara Memorandum on Good Practices for a Multi-Sectoral Approach to Countering Violent Extremism.
12 See also the Report of the United Nations Secretary-General, Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism, A/70/674 (24 December 2015).
13. Art. 38 (3), CRC, supra note 2; Art. 4, Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, supra note 6; Art. 8 (2) (b) (xxvi) and Art. 8 (2) (e) (vii), Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, A/CONF.183/9 (17 July 1998). See also Art. 3, International Labour Organization Convention No. 182, C182 (17 June 1999) on the worst forms of child labour, and Art. 3, Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children, Supplementing the UN Convention against Transnational Organised Crime, General Assembly Resolution A/RES/55/25 (15 November 2000). When the child is involved in a situation of armed conflict, the relevant legal instruments of international humanitarian law are applicable, namely the Four Geneva Conventions (12 August 1949) and Two Additional Protocols (8 June 1977). In any situation where a child has been recruited by an armed group he or she should be treated first and foremost as a victim of a violation of international law, and health and social support interventions should be explored.
Good Practice 4
Develop targeted prevention strategies with a strong focus on the creation of networks to support children at risk.
A prevention strategy targeting children vulnerable to recruitment for terrorism purposes and/or radicalization to violence should address key structural and social factors at the community level as well as in the social media. The aim of such strategies should be to reduce vulnerabilities and to address the conditions that are conducive to radicalization to violence and recruitment for terrorism purposes. In particular, prevention strategies should avoid and seek to prevent the stigmatization of any religion, culture, ethnic group, nationality, or race. This could in turn foster divisiveness and fuel distrust between communities and law enforcement authorities and could even be used as basis for propaganda by violent extremist groups.14
Generally, participation in preventive programs should be voluntary. States should consider whether national or specific preventive policies and programs should be developed tailored to the particular needs of areas identified by countries where children are more vulnerable to radicalization to violence. Preventive programs generally have a stronger chance of succeeding when developed, coordinated, and implemented in collaboration with community members. Public authorities, community police, juvenile detention officials, psychologists, social workers, schools, families, and religious leaders should engage in a collaborative process to provide the necessary support to the child and his/her family, as appropriate, including developing a cultural of lawfulness. At the same time, a clear coordination mechanism and a specific allocation of responsibilities among the different actors promote accountability and contribute to the overall effectiveness of the prevention strategy.
The legal system’s ability to intervene through the child welfare system can play an important role in prevention. A court’s authority over the child can provide an opportunity to involve additional resources such as mental health professionals or schools, as appropriate.
14. See Good Practice 5 of the GCTF’s The Hague-Marrakech Memorandum on Good Practices for a More Effective Response to the FTF Phenomenon.