Ideology is not main factor that pushes children to join terrorist groups

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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, concludes new research released today by the United Nations University (UNU), a UN think-tank.

"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 "Cradled by Conflict: Child Involvement with Armed Groups in Contemporary Conflict", a new volume based on original field research on three conflict case studies. "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."

O'Neil, the Project Lead for the Children and Extreme Violence project, suggests that ideology is often intertwined with other important factors like community and identity. "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."

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Social Science

UNU hosted a meeting of social scientists — including political scientists; sociologists; social, developmental, and clinical psychologists; and anthropologists — to examine the empirical evidence on the causes of political violence and how and why children become associated with, used by, and leave NSAGs.

Children and Extreme Violence: Insights from Social Science on Child Trajectories into and out of Non-state Armed Groups


UNU hosted academics and practitioners to discuss how research on engagement with gangs and criminal offenders and related prevention, disengagement, and desistence interventions may inform our understanding of child recruitment and use by, and exit from, non-state armed groups.

Children and Extreme Violence: Insights from Criminology on Child Trajectories into and out of Non-State Armed Groups


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