U.K. youngsters are being referred to anti-terror schemes at an ever-increasing rate due to the growing risk of radicalisation.
The Channel project, a preventative government programme working to provide early stage support to people "identified as being vulnerable to being drawn into terrorism," receives referrals at a rate of more than one a day, reports The Telegraph. The programme was set up following the 2005 London bombings.
Figures show that a total of 290 children under the age of 18 were referred to Channel in 2012-13. In 2013-14 the figure had increased, by almost half, to 423. In one alarming case a report was made concerning a child of only 3 years old and other referrals include school-age children who have made Islamist threats or drawn pictures of bombs.
Worryingly many parents have no idea that their sons and daughters are being radicalised or even planning to leave home to join the Islamic State.
More: How to talk to your kids about 9/11
According to Tower Hamlets Council, there are many reasons a child may be drawn towards extremist ideologies and being aware of these if the first step towards keeping them safe:
- They may be searching for answers to questions about identity, faith and belonging.
- They may be driven by the desire for "adventure" and excitement.
- They may be driven by a need to raise their self-esteem and promote their "street cred."
- They may be drawn to a group or individual who can offer identity, social network and support.
- They may be influenced by world events and a sense of grievance resulting in a need to make a difference.
Children and teenagers may receive extremist messages online, for example through networks that use social media to reach out to impressionable youngsters, or via their peer group. Tower Hamlets Council suggests that the following may be signs of extremist tendencies:
- Out of character changes in dress, behaviour and peer relationships
- Losing interest in friends and activities
- Showing sympathy for extremist causes
- Possessing illegal or extremist literature
- Advocating messages similar to illegal organisations such as "Muslims Against Crusades" or other non-proscribed extremist groups such as the English Defence League.
With this in mind, how can parents keep children and young people safe against radicalisation and extremism?
- The most important thing is to be aware of your child's movements, her friends, her interests and her passions. Encourage her to take up positive hobbies and interests with local groups you know are trustworthy.
- Communication is vital: talk to your child about what is going on in the world, encouraging her to share her opinions and listening without judgment. Encourage debate about local and global events and help her to understand different points of view. Don't discourage her from expressing strong views or trying to change things for the better but teach her that violent action is not the answer.
- Educate yourself and your child about Internet safety. Be aware of what your child is doing online, including the social media and messaging sites she is using. Remind her that people she comes into contact with online may not be genuine or speaking the truth.
- If you have any concerns at all that your child may be being influenced by others, get help immediately. Speak to someone you know you can trust, such as extended family members or your imam. If you think there is a risk of your child leaving the country take all necessary precautions to prevent travel, such as locking their passport in a safe place and blocking access to bank and savings accounts.
Visit internetmatters.org for more advice on what to do if you fear that your child — or any child — is in danger of radicalisation.
Download the Prevent Tragedies information leaflet if you are a mother worried about your daughter travelling to Syria.