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The Contested Relationship Between Youth and Violent Extremism: Assessing the Evidence Base in Relation to P/CVE Interventions

Claudia Wallner
Occasional Papers, 8 February 2021
Terrorism and Conflict, The Prevention Project, Tackling Extremism
This paper examines the key limitations of youth empowerment interventions in preventing and countering violent extremism, and identifies potential solutions to overcome these.

Age is frequently identified as a risk factor or a predictor for engagement in violent extremism. Indeed, certain factors associated with youth – such as changes in social identity, weakened social control and the intensified influence of peer groups – can make individuals more susceptible to violent extremist influences. Yet, using age as a predictor for engagement in such behaviour does not account for the vast majority of young people who do not engage in violent extremism. It also does little for identifying the minority who do engage in it. 

Youth programmes are often based on a simplistic understanding of the reasons why some young people engage in violent extremism. Consequently, they struggle with targeting their activities and fail to address the complex factors that drive young people to violent extremism. The programmatic focus on youth as a potential extremist threat and the lack of clear criteria to decide which young people to focus the attention of P/CVE work on can lead to the securitisation of everyday, youth-related activities and the framing of youth as a ‘suspect community’. 

Key findings and recommendations include: 

  • Narrow, age-based definitions of youth are not applicable in areas where achieving adulthood does not depend on reaching a certain age. In order to be relevant to the contexts in which they are implemented, interventions should work with regional and national definitions of youth that typically take locally relevant factors into account. 
  • Better targeting strategies that are based on evidence about risk and resilience factors and their cumulative impacts are needed to allocate resources efficiently and avoid the marginalisation of already vulnerable groups. This underscores the need for a better understanding of youth motivations and a move away from viewing the entire ‘youth’ segment of the population as a potential terror threat. 
  • Youth agendas tend to adopt a highly securitised view of young people, particularly young males, that perceives them as a threat to peace and stability. An improved and context-specific understanding of gender with regard to youth could help tailor interventions to the intended target audiences. 

BANNER IMAGE: Courtesy of Андрей Яланский/Adobe Stock

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Claudia Wallner
Research Analyst

Claudia is a Research Analyst in the Terrorism and Conflict research group at RUSI. Her research focuses on... read more

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