On 12th February the United Nations University (UNU), a UN think tank, published ‘Cradled by Conflict: Child Involvement with Armed Groups in Contemporary Conflict’, a new report based on original field research on three conflict case studies. This report argues that counter-terror efforts based on widely-held assumptions about the ideological motivations of children and youth recruited into extremist groups are unlikely to be effective, and could backfire.
“In many cases, ideology does not appear predominately responsible for driving children into armed groups, even those that are labelled ‘violent extremist’” says Dr Siobhan O’Neil, lead editor of this publication. “Evidence from the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, Mali, and Nigeria suggests that even in cases where ideology plays a role in a child’s trajectory towards an armed group, it is usually one of a number of motivating or facilitating factors.”
The report concludes that ideology is often intertwined with other important factors such as physical safety and food security, family and peer networks, financial incentives, coercion, and the allure of armed groups, which provide a ready-made community, identity, and status for young people.
“The international community maintains outdated and unrealistic understandings of how armed groups recruit children and maintain their involvement, as well as of how children leave armed groups and their prospects for reintegration in unstable contexts,” stated O’Neil. “These findings have significant implications for policies and programmes aimed at addressing child recruitment, use and exit from armed groups. Misinterpretations of the problem at hand can result in poorly suited programmatic responses and/or lead to children feeling stigmatized and resentful.”
“We have a responsibility to better tailor our policy and programmatic interventions to prevent child recruitment and use by armed groups. Children are our greatest resource. The international community can do more to harness their positive motivations and engage them as partners on the path to peace.”
Cradled by Conflict is the culmination of a two-year research project led by the UN University (UNU), in collaboration with UNICEF, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), and the governments of Luxembourg and Switzerland.
UN Photo/Tobin Jones