Challenging conventional wisdom that "violent extremism" or ideology is predominantly responsible for driving children into terrorist groups, a new UN-based report shows that community and identity also play a key role.
In the report, titled Cradled by Conflict: Child Involvement with Armed Groups in Contemporary Conflict, the researchers suggest that most children do not so much "opt" into conflict as "grow" into it.
"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," Siobhan O'Neil, from the United Nations University (UNU), a UN think tank, said in a statement on Monday.
Ideology is often intertwined with other important factors like community and identity, O'Neil suggested.
"Armed groups like Boko Haram have intertwined their ideologies with a rejection of the State to recruit those who have experienced state oppression and violence into their ranks," O'Neil said.
The report also pointed to other factors present in conflict areas, 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.
In addition, the report noted 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.
"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 stigmatised and resentful," O'Neil said
The report also proposed principles such as avoiding programmes focussed primarily on ideological factors, and incorporating ideological components.
Further, development of holistic efforts to address the needs and risks of children along with rigorously assessed interventions over the long term and engagement of children not just as beneficiaries, but as partners may be more effective in preventing child recruitment and use by armed groups
"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."
The report is the culmination of a two-year research project led by the UN University in collaboration with Unicef, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), and the governments of Luxembourg and Switzerland.
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