Beirut (Lebanon), 2 October 2019 - Lebanon launched the first national report on its efforts to rehabilitate children with offences related to violent extremism or terrorism, titled " From Suspect of Terrorism to Faith in Life" on 26 September. The report shows how children were reintegrated into the community under the "Reconciliation with Life" program, through specialized activities, programs and mechanisms, and by resorting to experienced staff to ensure proper implementation.
It is in a very specific context, between 2012 to 2016, characterized by a surge of terrorist attacks on villages on Lebanon's border with Syria and the southern suburb of Beirut, that an increasing number of children recruited and exploited by armed groups were arrested and transferred to the juvenile wing of the Roumieh Prison in Lebanon.
New strategies that address this issue while maintaining "the best interests of the child" as key principle were subsequently devised. The resulting rehabilitation programmes developed in the juvenile wing of the Roumieh Prison aim to increase the chances of children's social reintegration and disengagement from violence.
The report documents the experience of the project "Improved Prison Management and Rehabilitation and Reintegration of High-Risk Prisoners in Lebanon", which is implemented by the Ministry of Justice in close collaboration with the Ministry of Interior and Municipalities, with the technical assistance of UNODC, and funded by Canada, the European Union and Italy.
The report launch took place at the Prime Minister's office and was attended by Bahia El Hariri, representing the Prime Minister Saad El Hariri, Dr. Albert Serhan, Minister of Justice, Emmanuelle Lamoureux, Ambassador of Canada to Lebanon, Rubina AbouZeinab, Head of the Preventing Violent Extremism Unit at the Prime Minister's Office, Philip Lazzarini, UN Deputy Special Coordinator, Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, and Cristina Albertin, UNODC Regional Representative for the Middle East and North Africa.
"Through activities such as vocational training, psychosocial support, and income generating activities, children are given the opportunity to reform and rehabilitate, with the ultimate objective of easing their integration back into society and starting anew… since its inception the initiative has reached more than 735 boys at the Roumieh prison and 43 girls at the Moubadara facility," Ms. Lamoureux, commented on the programme.
Dr. Serhan noted that "What distinguishes this rehabilitation program is that it includes the stages of intervention that reflect the reality of the child in prison: from specialized observation to productive guidance and positive involvement in the context of using the resources taking into consideration family and society to ensure the reintegration of the child in the specific context of his environment."
The efforts come as part of the implementation of the national strategy for preventing violent extremism undertaken by the Lebanese government, which was highlighted by Abou Zeinab, the national coordinator for preventing violent extremism. "One of the characteristics of the national strategy is to deepen the sense of hope in life and to emphasize that reintegration into the community is always available for any individual from the society," Abu Zeinab highlighted at the event.
Ms. Albertin expressed UNODC's readiness to share, disseminate, and advocate the Lebanese unique and pioneering experience for the benefit of the children regionally and globally. Additionally, she thanked the practitioners and experts who worked on the report "for putting the detained children at the heart of their work and for never giving up hope for them."
The results outlined in the report, in terms of non-recidivism following enrolment in the rehabilitation program, are encouraging. Accumulating new skills, opening up to others and adopting non-violent means of action are shown to have supported the youth in question. The authors of the report therefore propose the extension of the program to include young adults between the ages of 18 and 25, prosecuted for violent extremism including terrorism.
While the rehabilitation shows positive and concrete results in the framework of the experiment carried out in the juvenile wing of the Roumieh Prison, the great challenge remains at the level of the social reintegration. In the absence of local mechanisms to ensure a long-term reintegration process for the children concerned, the risk of re-engagement in violent extremism exists.
" Where are you going?" - Documentary to get the children's side of the story on the From 'Suspect of Terrorism to Faith in Life' programme.