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Children's Mobilization into Violent Extremism

PI: Mia Bloom, Georgia State University

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Preventing the Next Generation: Mapping the Pathways of Children's Mobilization into Violent Extremist Organizations

Principal Investigator: Mia Bloom, Georgia State University

Co-Investigator: B. Heidi Ellis

Years of Award: 2016-2019

Managing Service Agency: Office of Naval Research

Project Description:

The exploitation of children by militant organizations, e.g., terrorist groups or Central American gangs, is not a new phenomenon. However, terrorist organizations such as the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq (ISIS) increasingly used children for battlefield activities and depicted them in their media. By exploiting children, terrorist and militant groups benefit from greater media attention while simultaneously grooming the new generation of loyal members. To better understand this phenomenon, the project “Preventing the Next Generation: Mapping the Pathways of Children’s Mobilization into Violent Extremist Organizations” examined how children were recruited, deployed and ascertained whether they were radicalized in a number of different violent extremist organizations (VEOs) in Iraq and Syria, including the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the People’s Protection Units (YPG Kurdish militia).

Detailed case studies are being conducted on how children have been exploited by terrorist groups in Nigeria (Book Haram), Somalia (al Shabaab), Northern Ireland (IRA) and Colombia (FARC).  Additionally, the research team at Boston Children’s Hospital has contrasted common features in the social ecology of youth involvement in terrorist groups with Central American gangs (e.g. in Nicaragua). The project has generated three important policy implications. First, the project identified the manner in which terrorist organizations exploited children -- tracking the increasing use of children by groups like ISIS and contrasting these with the manner in which criminal gangs exploited children. Second, the project seeks to inform operational decisions in the field when facing militarized children. Third, the project proposes a mechanism to determine which children can (and should) be reintegrated (child foreign fighter returnees) after conflict.

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