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Research Paper

Children of the Caliphate: Young IS Returnees and the Reintegration Challenge

This research paper focuses on young or juvenile Islamic State (IS) returnees, assessing what sets juvenile returnees apart from adult returnees or the broader population of young criminals, and scoping the potential venues and challenges in their rehabilitation and reintegration. The authors conclude that rehabilitation and reintegration efforts for juvenile violent extremist offenders (including those returning from IS-territory) need to be based on two underlying assumptions: the importance of age and attitudes. Young children (zero to nine years old) who are born in IS-territory or brought by their parents at a very young age, should first and foremost be viewed as victims. For older children, other factors such as indoctrination, training and potential involvement in violent activities are more likely to play a role, demanding an approach that goes beyond the victim-perspective. Professionals need to determine to what extent these children have been socialised into IS-culture and whether they cope with their experiences more internally or externally. To direct rehabilitative efforts for them, it is even more essential to assess their attitude towards violence and to what extent they have accepted IS’ norms and behaviors, compared to adult terrorist returnees. In the end, the authors conclude that it is not necessary to reinvent the wheel, especially where numbers of terrorism convicts in general, and juveniles in particular are low. But rehabilitation is considered to work best when tailored to individual needs, and policymakers need to take into account the very distinctive needs of juvenile offenders as a separate class of offenders while respecting all relevant international law and human rights standards in the fight against terrorism.

How to cite: Van der Heide, L. and J. Geenen, “Children of the Caliphate: Young IS Returnees and the Reintegration Challenge”, The International Centre for Counter-Terrorism – The Hague 8, no. 10 (2017).