The risks of child recruitment in terrorist organizations and armed groups are increasingly growing. However, the bespoke programs, whether by preventing child recruitment, shutting children off from such groups, or rehabilitating and integrating children into society are inconsistent with the severity of the said phenomenon and associated risks, with many challenges coming into play.
Once linked, a child cannot easily dissociate from such armed groups, as various challenges remain dauntingly tough. Children suffer from being relocated from their homes and families; they cannot trace their way back home. More challengingly, children are bulldozed into going to other countries. For instance, the children abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda have had difficulty going back home; such children were unaware of the surrounding vicinity and had no clue of how to develop an escape plan.
Experiences show that once children are informed of how to leave armed groups with prior knowledge that they will receive support once they act accordingly, they can be more encouraged and enthused to leave. To this effect, a special program in northern Uganda used fliers dropped from helicopters, bushland leaflets, and a local radio program to provide information to children on how to escape or surrender safely, with promises of pardon made to encourage them to leave the LRA.
Equally important, the knowledge base about children associated with terrorist and armed groups is still relatively poor. It becomes difficult to pinpoint exactly what factors influence children being attached to such groups, and how to help them escape. such children may fear reprisals, or they may be rejected by family and community members upon return.
Unfortunately, terrorist groups have shown their ability to indoctrinate their child recruiters; when they are fully imbued and inculcated with extremism and violence, they evince more resistance to efforts to remove them from such groups for social reintegration.
Public opinion may demand a more robust approach in managing children recruited by terrorist groups, as they perceive that such children receive special treatment vis-à-vis other vulnerable people who really deserve such treatment more than anyone else.
Given the poor resources, reintegration programs may be developed through a one-size-fits-all approach, although recruited children show various experiences. Programs unaware of individual needs, while brushing aside resiliency required for appropriate responses will often have little impact. The general social and economic conditions remain decisive factors.
Practitioners and policy makers need to act in a timely manner to address this phenomenon. When developing child reintegration policies and programs, it is important to consider different aspects, such as health, psychological and social recovery, and their needs and aspirations to return to their families and communities.
Research shows severe effects of violence on the physical and mental health of children, who need treatment that many countries cannot provide. Again, such children often face severe stigmatization and rejection from their families and communities. Some terrorist and armed groups force children to commit heinous acts of violence targeting their families and communities to block their way back home.
It is necessary to develop closer cooperation globally to clamp down on this formidable phenomenon. It would be much helpful for the UNSC to move forward, based on Chapter VII and refer cases of suspected recruitment in conflict areas to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. The experience of the Joint Forces Command of the Coalition to Support Legitimacy in Yemen can be one of the best practices of recruited and victimized child rehabilitation and reintegration through the UN Child Protection Unit.