The rise and fall of the so-called Islamic State (ISIL) in Iraq has been especially destructive for children recruited and exploited by the group. A large number of these children are currently deprived of their liberty, as a result of their alleged association with the terrorist group, and a cause for special concern. According to figures provided by national authorities in 2019, detention facilities across the country have been filled with over 2,000 boys and girls 'perceived as' being associated with the group. Children who are suspected of terrorism-related activities are usually arrested and detained by the security forces or intelligence actors under the Federal Anti-Terrorism Law of 2005, as well as the Anti-Terrorism Law Number 3 (2006) in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.
While the situation following the rise of ISIL in Iraq and Syria is both unique and recent, there is limited practical experience on how to deal with children who are perceived as being associated and affiliated with this group. The impact of detention is devastating for them. They are separated from their families and communities for long periods of time and are even more vulnerable upon release. Furthermore, these children face stigma upon returning to their communities, as they have been labelled as 'terrorists' or 'violent extremists'.
Due to extensive damages and the financial requirements to rebuild the city, progress is slow and complex political dynamics further hamper the implementation of crucial activities to protect and serve these children. Currently, the justice sector is overwhelmed by the massive caseloads and warrants for arrests. In Mosul alone, there are currently about 900 children and young people in detention (under the Ministry of Interior - MOI), the majority under the terrorism law, out of which, only a fraction has been sentenced while the majority remains under investigation.
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Since 2019, UNODC has engaged in dialogue with representatives of the Ministry of Justice, responsible for the management of social reformatories and who have requested technical assistance from UNODC to support children and young people in contact with the law, including those with a perceived association with ISIL, in order to rehabilitate and prepare them for reintegration.
Thanks to UNODC’s strong mandate and expertise in violence against children, justice for children and counter-terrorism, the Office, through STRIVE Juvenile, will provide specialized assistance to national professionals dealing with children detained. The project will be complementary to another current engagement of UNODC, which consists in developing a comprehensive research and assessment of prisons and juvenile reformatories under the Ministry of Justice in Iraq with regard to relevant international norms, standards and instruments.
Within this engagement, priority will be given to high-security prisons that are holding men and women, on conditions of detention and the treatment of children deprived of liberty under the Iraqi Juvenile Corrections Service (IJCS), including with a focus on children in detention for alleged association with terrorist and violent extremist groups and children detained with their mothers.
In addition, UNODC is part of the UN Joint Approach on community-based reconciliation and reintegration of children, young people and adults formerly associated with ISIL/Da’esh in Iraq. The Joint Approach focuses on the last two steps of the process, reconciliation and reintegration, advocating for a strong involvement of the communities to ensure a sustainable reintegration mechanism, a well-coordinated process of protection, repatriation, prosecution, rehabilitation and return.
July 2021 – The Government of Iraq, together with the European Union (EU) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), launched the STRIVE Juvenile project in Iraq with the aim to develop and implement comprehensive national responses to prevent and counter terrorism and violent extremism affecting children and juveniles. In the past years, the international community has been increasingly confronted with the phenomenon of the association of children and juveniles with terrorist and violent extremist groups.
Iraq is indubitably one of the countries most affected by terrorism and so-called violent extremism in recent years. The Government of Iraq has expressed the urgent need to tackle the situation of children and young people who are currently in detention for alleged affiliation/association with terrorist groups and has acknowledged that the promotion of their rehabilitation and reintegration, as well as the provision of fair and equal justice, are important to prevent future terrorist radicalization and violence. Through the new STRIVE Juvenile, the Government of Iraq will closely work with UNODC to strengthen national capacities to combat terrorist and violent extremism recruitment and exploitation of children and juveniles.