Children Associated With Terrorism Often Motivated By Love, Not Hate, Says UN Think Tank

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  • 2017•10•30     New York

    30 October 2017, New York – Counter-terror efforts are hindered by widely-held false assumptions about the motivations of children associating with terrorist activities, suggests new work released today by the United Nations University (UNU), a UN think-tank.

    “Children primarily have positive and prosocial motivations for joining armed groups, including a love for their family and community, a need to be part of meaningful groups, and a desire for a sense of significance in their life,” says Dr Siobhan O’Neil, Project Lead for the ‘Children and Extreme Violence’ project at UNU. “These insights challenge conventional perceptions that children and young people are driven into the arms of terrorists by hatred for another group or other manifestations of antisocial behaviour.”

    These counterintuitive insights from psychological and political science research, elaborated in “Insights from Social Science on Child Trajectories into and out of Non-state Armed Groups, have significant implications for policies and programmes aimed at preventing or countering violent extremism.

    “Some efforts to counter the recruitment of children into extremist groups may miss the mark,” says Dr James Cockayne, Head of the UN University Office in New York. “Many of these programmes assume that children are behaving anti-socially. This important new research suggests something quite different: they may be behaving prosocially. Our interventions may need to harness children’s pro-social tendencies to empower them to be active participants in resilience building and recovery.”

    “Rather than cast them as a threat, the international community should recognise children and youth are an asset to building a stronger, more secure future,” says O’Neil.

    Ms. Julia Blocher
    Communications & Coordination Officer


    About UNU
    The United Nations University (UNU) is an international community of scholars engaged in policy-relevant research on pressing global issues, specialised postgraduate training and capacity building, and the dissemination of knowledge. UNU functions as a think-tank for the United Nations system. It operates as a global network of institutes and programmes, coordinated by UNU Centre in Tokyo. 

    About the ‘Children and Extreme Violence’ Project
    The United Nations University (UNU), in collaboration with UNICEF, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, and Luxembourg and Switzerland, is running a research initiative to fill key knowledge gaps about child recruitment and use by non-state armed groups (NSAGs) in contemporary armed conflicts, including those groups listed as terrorist and characterised as “violent extremist”. The initiative also examines the factors that impede child release from such groups. The goal of this project is to use the empirical findings of the research to inform programmatic guidance for actors in the field working to prevent the recruitment and use of children by contemporary NSAGs, and to effectively disengage children from such groups.

    The research initiative combines extensive outreach and rigorous research methodologies, including extensive consultations with experts and practitioners, a wide-ranging desk review, original field research for three conflict case studies (Mali, Syria/Iraq, Nigeria), and legal analysis. The project is expected to produce several outputs: three ‘State of Research’ Briefs; an edited volume analysing how and why children become associated with, used by, and exit NSAGs in contemporary conflict; and technical guidance, informed by the project’s empirical findings, to assist practitioners in their efforts to design and implement effective prevention and release/reintegration programmes for children.