Children and Extreme Violence: Insights from Social Science on Child Trajectories Into and Out Of Non-State Armed Groups

Children and Extreme Violence, United Nations University, October 2017. 
Rebecca Littman

The United Nations University (UNU), in concert with UNICEF, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), and the governments of Luxembourg and Switzerland, is leading a research initiative examining child trajectories into and out of non-state armed groups (NSAGs) in contemporary conflicts, including those listed as terrorist and characterized as “violent extremist”. This project will produce programmatic guidance for preventing the recruitment and use of children by, and effectively disengaging children from, NSAGs that employ extreme violence. As part of an initial desk review process, UNU convened a series of “state of research” workshops to draw upon perspectives, expertise, and experience that traditionally have not been included in United Nations policy and programmatic discussions in this area. To summarize the workshops, build on the empirical findings discussed, and promote cross learning, UNU has published a three-part “State of Research” series, which, in addition to this brief, includes Insights from Criminology on Child Trajectories Into and Out of Non-State Armed Groups and Viewing Non-State Armed Groups from a Brand Marketing Lens: A Case Study of Islamic State.

This brief is based on a 22 October 2016 workshop UNU hosted with scholars from anthropology; sociology; political science; and developmental, social, and clinical psychology, to discuss how their own research and that of their fields more broadly could be brought to bear to better explicate child association and disengagement with contemporary NSAGs. This “State of Research” Brief provides a summary of the workshop discussions combined with a limited literature review drawing from the studies and research cited during the workshop. The brief is not a comprehensive review of all the relevant work in this area, nor does it examine all the factors that influence child association with and exit from NSAGs (e.g., structural factors). Rather, it outlines a few of the robust findings and points of consensus across the academic disciplines and practitioner experiences, focusing on those with implications for understanding child trajectories into and out of contemporary NSAGs.