In recent years, the number of persons below the age of eighteen (hereinafter “children” see the Convention on the Rights of the Child art.1), recruited and exploited by terrorist and violent extremist groups, has notably increased. Reports indicate that there are thousands of children abducted, recruited, used, or otherwise associated with terrorist and violent extremist groups.
In various regions, including West Africa and Southeast Asia, as well as in the Middle East, children can be groomed, indoctrinated, used as servants or exploited as sexual slaves, and can also be involved in different activities for the pursuit of the groups’ criminal activities, including serving as spies and informants, or being directly involved in the preparation and/or delivery of attacks. Girls, who are also recruited through specific strategies, face higher risks of sexual violence and exploitation when associated with the groups, and are sometimes instrumentalized purposefully for perpetrating attacks, as they tend to garner less suspicion.
On the other hand, children, because of their young age and psychological malleability, may become particularly dangerous instruments in the hands of those exploiting them and/or instrumentalizing them for the purpose of committing criminal offences. Indeed, in this respect, children recruited and exploited by terrorist and violent extremist groups may be involved in the commission of serious offences, including acts of terrorism, war crimes or crimes against humanity.
The European Union has identified terrorism as one of the major threats facing the Union and its Member States in the European Agenda on Security (2015) and the Global Strategy for the European Union’s Foreign and Security Policy (2016), which stress the importance of bringing together the internal and external dimensions of terrorism. In 2005, the EU Counter-Terrorism Strategy was adopted with the aim of "combating terrorism globally, while respecting human rights". The strategy is based on four pillars - prevent, protect, pursue and respond - which, collectively, should reduce the risk of terrorism.
The Council Conclusions on EU External Action on Counter-Terrorism adopted in June 2017 highlighted the need to further develop cooperation within the EU's neighbourhood and other regions on countering terrorism and violent extremism and lays out clear guidance on how Counter-Terrorism (CT) and Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism (P/CVE) should be embedded across EU Strategies and policies. The Council Conclusions encourage, among others, actions aimed at tackling the acute challenge of returning Foreign Terrorist Fighters (FTF), including women and children specifically.
The EU approach to CT and P/CVE capacity building focuses on promoting criminal justice and law enforcement capabilities while respecting human rights and the rule of law, as well as supporting key preventive measures for violent extremism and countering financing of terrorism. The different strands of the Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace (IcSP) work follow this logic and focus on:
1. Building capacity of law enforcement and judiciary agencies
2. Preventing and countering violent extremism
3. Countering the financing of terrorism
EU work in the area of Counter-Terrorism (CT) and violent extremism is aligned with the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy (UNGA resolution 60/288), which, in its fifth review (UNGA resolution 70/291) emphasizes that Member States should take relevant measures to effectively reintegrate children associated with armed groups, including terrorist groups, especially in view of their potential status as victims of terrorism, such as when they are alleged as having infringed the law. The 2016 Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism of the United Nations Secretary-General (SG) also recommends that a portion of funds directed at preventing violent extremism would be committed to projects that address the specific needs of young people, including children. Action will take into consideration the recommendations of the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism.
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