In many communities an entire generation of children come of age cradled by conflict, their development shaped by engagement with armed actors and scarred by experiences of violence and terrorism. This terrible truth will have real and serious economic, social, and political consequences for those children, their communities and countries – and indeed potentially for other countries around the world. Research examining the causes, dynamics and consequences of child association with armed groups in contemporary conflicts is still nascent, but its significance is clear.
In 2016, United Nations University set up a research project, together with the Governments of Luxembourg and Switzerland, UNICEF, and the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations to fill the knowledge gaps about how and why children become associated with, are used by, and leave non- state armed groups (NSAGs) in contemporary conflicts, particularly those groups characterized as terrorist or “ violent extremist.” The project – Children & Extreme Violence – produced three main outputs:
The work involved researchers from multiple regions and academic institutions and drew on original case study research, extensive interviews with key stakeholders, focus group discussions, and survey work, among other research methods. In Iraq, a pilot survey was undertaken of 45 children detained or convicted of association with Islamic State and 143 key informants were interviewed, including former combatants who were under 18 at the time of their recruitment across Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey. In Nigeria, research drew on a pilot survey involving 200+ internally displaced persons impacted by Boko Haram violence and 39 interviews with children formerly associated with Boko Haram. In Mali, 65 interviews took place in addition to 12 focus groups with more than 190 respondents organized across key provinces affected by the conflict.