In his opening speech EU Ambassador Walter Stevens, emphasised the EU's commitment to support children impacted by terrorism and to eliminate violence against children at large, which constitutes a grave violation of their rights. Terrorist groups abduct children, expose them to violence, indoctrinate them and even prepare them to perpetrate attacks. At the same time, children born to parents who are members of extremist communities, or who have lost their parents as a result of their activities, suffer from their parents' choices. Ambassador Stevens emphasised: “Child recruitment by terrorists happens all too frequent and has catastrophic consequences on children & the whole of society."
EU Ambassador Stevens reminded that recruited and radicalised children are victims first and foremost: “Children recruited and exploited by terrorist groups are primarily victims - not security threats. We as the EU are committed that all children grow up in a safe and nurturing environment.” In this regard, together with the Kofi Annan Foundation, the EU launched a joint project titled "Youth Initiative on Countering Violent Extremism" aims at providing young people with a sense of empowerment that will make them less receptive to radicalisation attempts.
In the panel discussion, governmental representatives (Stephen Husy, Ambassador-at-large for International Counter-terrorism of Switzerland) and representatives from UNODC (Alexandra Martins), the UN Human Rights Office (Francesco Motta), the International Committee of the Red Cross (Monique Nanchen), the UN Special Envoy for ending Violence against Children (Najat Maalla), and from the CRC Committee (Philip Jaffé) analysed the current strategies to prevent child recruitment.
The panellists shed light on the need for increased preventative action as well as true accountability for recruiters of children into terrorism. When discussing criminal accountability of the children themselves, all panellists insisted on the full respect of children rights. All agreed that children recruited by terrorists are first and foremost to be considered victims of terrorism. The repatriation of children that are other countries' nationals was another crucial appeal from panellists.
It was also identified that countries like Syria and Iraq were not sufficiently equipped to tackle these multifaceted and difficult issues and needed further technical and financial support. Mr. Hussain Mahmood Alkhateeb, Iraq's Ambassador in Geneva, provided a comprehensive overview of what Iraq had been doing to address children affected by terrorism and Daesh in particular, such as reintegration and granting them nationality upon two witnesses.
The UNODC presented the recently launched "Roadmap on the Treatment of Children Associated with Terrorist and Violent Extremist Groups", which outlines key principles on treatment of children recruited and exploited by violent extremist groups, on prevention, justice responses, rehabilitation and reintegration of these children.