CHILDREN AND YOUTH IN THE FIGHT AGAINST VIOLENT EXTREMISM
Children and youth around the world are daily exposed to violent extremism and its impacts in one form or the other. They come across terrorist photos, videos and propaganda on TV and social media. Some have experienced some form of discrimination because of their religious beliefs. Many have been tragically and massively affected by violent extremism especially in recent years. Others are living as refugees and internally displaced persons after losing their homes, loved ones, schools and life as they used to know it. Still, some others have already been radicalized and have joined terrorist groups.
Although children and youth comprise about 46 percent of total world population, many young people are disproportionately affected by inequality, unemployment, poverty and marginalization. These and other factors increase their vulnerability to radicalization and violent extremism. Most terrorist groups are not unaware of these conditions and seek to entice youth with attractive salaries and a sense of belonging all heaped on a big promise of glory. Some estimates suggest that youth between 15 and 18 years of age comprise 20 percent of all suicide bombers. In some regions, the proportion is larger.
The truth remains that the vast majority of young people are peaceful and peace-loving. They prefer and pursue decent living and can co-exist with people of other religions, races, ethnicity and beliefs. However, opportunities to engage and empower our young people are far from adequate.
If we will ever build a world of peace and win the fight against violent extremism, we must begin to unleash the limitless potential of children and youth to fight violent extremism and promote peace, development, justice, understanding and religious tolerance.
Already, many youth and youth groups are in the forefront of efforts to counter violent extremism, religious intolerance and injustice. Brave and heroic youth, many of whom have experienced some form of violent extremism stand together with strong voices to reject violence and uphold the dignity of all humans in order to create a more just and peaceful world.
In other to win this war for our future — for that is exactly what it is, we must consciously and proactively promote dialogue, inclusion, good governance, equality, equity and justice. Equally important is the need to collectively fight discrimination and exclusion which often breed the grievances that allow radicalization and violence.
We must meet our children and youth in the same spaces and platforms where extremist groups are trying to radicalize and recruit — on social media. We must also track and check their efforts via peer-to-peer networking. Extremists continue to prey on alienation, identity crisis and the youthful desire to change the world, and try to manipulate them using increasingly sophisticated propaganda and recruiters. We must therefore be equally prepared to counter these messages and narratives with more positive and meaningful ways and opportunities for youth to make a difference.
Many extremist groups are known to forbid or inhibit education, social and political activities. For instance “Boko Haram” is loosely translated in Hausa language as “Western education is forbidden.” They also violate the rights of women and girls through sexual enslavement, forced marriage and denial of rights to education and participation in public life. It is therefore important for young people to see this side of extremist groups rather than the power and freedom that they try to promote and portray.
If we will tackle violent extremism and terrorism, and move towards a more peaceful world, we must rightfully harness the abundant energy, idealism, vibrant hope and innovative power of children and youth. Young people need to be inspired to believe in themselves and in their power to change the world. We should provide opportunities for them and give then hope for a better future. Above all, we must keep their dreams and aspirations of a more peaceful, equitable and just world alive.
Join the #NotAnotherNigerian Campaign against Violent Extremism.