29th September 2019 - Beirut, Lebanon
"When I think about what I did, I realize how blind I was. How could I have believed them and followed them without hesitation?" R-K
According to the latest report of the United Nations Secretary General (UNSG) on children and armed conflict for 2018, 24,000 grave violations against children were verified in 20 countries. Almost 2,500 children were abducted by parties of armed conflict often as a precursor to other grave violations, including recruitment and use within armed conflict.
It is in a very specific context (2012-2016), characterized by a surge of terrorist attacks shaking the villages on the 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.
In response to this new problematic of children in detention with offences related to violent extremism, including terrorism, it was necessary to establish new courses of action while maintaining the key principle of "the best interests of the child". It is in light of these guidelines that the rehabilitation programmes developed in the juvenile wing of the Roumieh Prison aim to increase the chances of disengagement and social reintegration of children.
Based on such efforts, Lebanon launches the first national report on the results of the Lebanese experience for the rehabilitation of children with offences related to violent extremism or terrorism, funded by Canada, titled " From Suspect of Terrorism ... to Faith in Life."
The report documents the experience of the "Improved Prison Management and Rehabilitation and Reintegration of High-Risk Prisoners in Lebanon" project, 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 event took place at the Prime Minister's office and was attended by Mrs. Bahia El Hariri, representing the Prime Minister Mr. Saad El Hariri, Dr. Albert Serhan, Minister of Justice, Mrs. Emmanuelle Lamoureux, Ambassador of Canada to Lebanon, Mrs. Rubina AbouZeinab, Head of the Preventing Violent Extremism Unit at the Prime Minister's Office, Mr. Philip Lazzarini, UN Deputy Special Coordinator, Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, and Ms. Cristina Albertin, UNODC Regional Representative for the Middle East and North Africa.
This report aims to demonstrate the process of reintegrating the children into the community under the "Reconciliation with Life" program by adopting effective rehabilitation actions through the implementation of specific activities, programs and mechanisms, by resorting to experienced staff to ensure proper implementation.
"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."
This programme is an integral part of the rehabilitation approach undertaken since 1999 in the juvenile wing of the Roumieh Prison by the Juvenile Department of the Ministry of Justice, in close collaboration with the juvenile wing authorities, Internal Security Forces, and the Ministry of Interior and Municipalities.
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 Ms. AbouZeinab, 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."
Since the results are encouraging, in terms of non-recidivism, following enrollment in the rehabilitation program, the journey of "Reconciliation with Life" by accumulating new skills, opening up to others and adopting non-violent means of action, encouraged the authors of the report to propose the extension of the program to include young adults between the ages of 18 and 25, prosecuted for this serious crime.
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 of these children. 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.
Watch the " Where are you going?" documentary to get the children's side of the story.