Urgent Need to Address Threats of Violent Extremism to Children and Youth

Human Wrongs Watch

Children and youth are often the most vulnerable victims of the scourge of radicalization and violence, the President of the United Nations General Assembly on 3 June 2016 emphasized, urging the international community to advance its own thinking and refine its responses to addressing the challenges of violent extremism.


Girls collect water at a pump station in the Dar es Salam camp in Chad. Some 500,000 Nigerian children have been uprooted by attacks by the terrorist group Boko Haram. Photo: UNICEF/Sylvain Cherkaoui
“And it is frightening to think that at a given moment, our youngest people could have their lives, hopes and futures so deeply affected by violent extremism,” he added.

The event, held on 3 June at UN Headquarters in New York, included four panel discussions addressing the versatile nature of threats of violent extremism to children and youth, as well as examining ways to strengthen prevention efforts and reinforce existing strategies to counter violent extremism with a specific focus on children and youth.

Lykketoft said it was worth remembering that many children and young people are themselves the targets and victims of violent extremist acts, including in recent years in Norway, Nigeria, Pakistan and beyond.

“Regrettably, however, millions of other children and young people are also vulnerable to radicalization and to becoming violent extremists themselves, whether in Copenhagen or Cairo, in South Carolina or Syria,” he said.


Mogens Lykketoft, President of the UN General Assembly, addresses the opening of a High-level Thematic Conversation on Children and Youth affected by Violent Extremism. UN Photo

“This is a subject that, in many ways, I wish we did not have to discuss,” said Mogens Lykketoft, President of the UN General Assembly, at the opening of a High-level Thematic Conversation on Children and Youth affected by Violent Extremism, noting that he, like many participants, have children and grandchildren of his own.


He noted that the event was therefore an important opportunity for the General Assembly to achieve a more comprehensive understanding of the subject, particularly in light of the Secretary-General’s Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism and as the international community embarked on the 10-year review of the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy.

“It is an opportunity for Member States and the UN system to advance their own thinking on how best to tackle these challenges; to understand what it is that leaves children and young people so vulnerable to radicalization,” Lykketoft said.

“There is a great deal at stake and I believe we all have a great deal to learn,” he added.

Also speaking at today’s event was UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson, who stressed that the conversation was a great opportunity to continue the discussion, started under the Jordanian Presidency of the Security Council, on the role of youth in countering violent extremism and promoting peace, which had led to the adoption of Security Council resolution 2250 (2015) on youth, peace and security.


Reminding participants that 46 per cent of the world’s population is younger than 25 years old, Eliasson said that young people are disproportionately affected by inequality, marginalization and not least by unemployment.

“With these figures and facts in mind, we should understand that young people may be vulnerable to the lure of violent extremists, who offer them a salary, a sense of belonging, and a promise of glory,” he said.

It was necessary, however, to put that into a more positive perspective, as the vast majority of young people abide by the law and have aspirations for better and peaceful lives for themselves, their families and their communities.

“Children and youth represent promises – not perils. They should be seen as a potential – not a problem,” the Deputy Secretary-General said.

“We need to engage and empower our young people. We should not only work for young people – we should work with them. They are subjects, not objects. We have a duty to unleash the great potential of young people to promote peace, development, justice and understanding,” he added.


Children outside refugee tents on 8 March 2016, in Idomeni, Greece. Photo: UNICEF/Tomislav Georgiev

In many parts of the world, children and young people urgently need not only protection, but also tangible opportunities for meaningful engagement, meaningful lives and jobs, the Deputy Secretary-General said.

As such, it was necessary to foster trust between decision makers and youth, and to integrate young women and men into decision-making at the local and national levels.

“Through dialogue, inclusion and good governance, our children and young people can become the empowered citizens they strive to be and deserve to be,” he stressed.

He also emphasized that it is necessary to fight discrimination and exclusion, which often underlie the grievances that lead to radicalization and violence.

“We must better and more effectively communicate our common values of peace and justice. We must stand together against the intolerance and hatred which is spread by extremist groups,” Eliasson said.

“In the spirit of the United Nations Charter , we must act now to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war and to live lives in larger freedom,” he added.

The four panel discussions comprising the event specifically focused on ‘Preventing children and youth from radicalization,’ ‘From radicalization to violent extremism,’ ‘Deradicalization, rehabilitation and reintegration,’ and ‘Multi-stakeholder engagement.’ (Source: UN).

2016 Human Wrongs Watch

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