Radicalism, violent extremism and terrorism, sit at the forefront of today’s policy discussions, in both Arab and non-Arab states. The fear these phenomena have instilled, their connection to wider tensions between and within religions, and how they have exposed a lack of social cohesion in seemingly resilient societies, have impacted communities in fundamental ways.
Characteristic of today’s violent extremist networks is the disproportionate participation of youth. While this is not uncommon in violent extremist groups, it is unusual that the demographic is so heavily skewed towards young people, and at the same time so geographically dispersed. An even more atypical trend is the roles being played by children, off the battlefield, and as soldiers, executors and suicide bombers. These trends present myriad risks for, and impacts on, children and youth in conflict-affected, fragile and developing countries alike. The different hats they wear — actors within the conflict, bystanders in theatre, sympathisers, activists or observers — means that individuals might be simultaneously vulnerable to recruitment, mistreated within a legal system and pose a danger to national security.
In response, this report examines the phenomenon of violent extremism, and the unique vulnerabilities of, impacts on and consequences for children and youth. It starts by presenting a new way of conceptualizing violent extremism; that individuals join a violent extremist group either in rejection of/rebellion against a given state of affairs, or driven by highly personal returns, and then enabled by contextual conditions. Structural motivators include, inter alia, repression, corruption, unemployment, inequality, discrimination and hostility between identity groups. Individual incentives include a sense of purpose, adventure, belonging, acceptance, status and/or material reward. Enabling factors include the presence of extremist mentors, access to social networks with violent extremist associations, and religious ideology.