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YOUNG BLOOD: Youth's Vulnerability on Terrorist Exploitation

By: Vince Christian T. Tapia | LEAPS Academy Philippines

PG Diploma in Terrorism Studies


Dr. Jose P. Rizal quoted “Ang Kabataan ang Pag-asa ng Bayan/ The youth is the hope of the motherland”, sounds cliché, but it is the truth. The youth is the backbone of the nation, playing an important role in the development of society. They are adaptable and information-hungry, considering all kinds of opinion decluttering the landscape of question to find value. Adolescents are intrinsically rebellious, and self-centered; in which terrorist group may utilize to commit and achieve their goal. As Henley stated, “conflict is planting the seeds of future hate in the next generation…If we don’t do something about the way these kids are being raised, we might be dealing with them as adults on the battlefield”.

The youth is a vital source for most terrorist groups, as they are easily deceived to commit conflicts. Reports show that most terrorist groups have vast number of youth membership. This is because the youths are better at evading security, which serves as a tactical advantage. In armed conflict, there are young, but evidently able-bodied fighters. They effectively fight guns with guns to prove their prowess, point to the group and the society.

Philippine authorities have launched a campaign of “Hands off our Children” in September of 2019. It seeks to help families look for their teenage loved ones who have been recruited by left-leaning youth groups. The youth members showed rebellious action against their parents and they condition the parent’s minds to simply accept the fact that their kids are already rebellious. According to Social Psychology of Cults, some groups indoctrinates the “blind” youth members, exploited by their leaders to perceive and execute their grievances towards the enemies of their group. Members are bound to preserve the organization by all means, a sign which they call a misguided altruism.

Based on reports, the exploitation of youth by armed groups remains extensive in countries affected by violent extremism, even though it is a war crime for any armed group to recruit or use children under the age of 15. Global efforts are exerted to save the youth from terrorist exploitation knowing the youth’s vulnerability. The Philippine counter-extremism worked with religious leaders to mainstream their teachings and help deradicalize youth who are ripe targets for recruitment.

Addressing Youth Vulnerability to Terrorist Recruitment

By way of scrutiny of reports, daily news, and situational awareness analysis, the vulnerability factors associated with youth fighter recruitment are presented as follows:

Geographic Proximity to Conflict - Proximity to violent extremist groups is a significant risk factor for both forced and voluntary recruitment into terrorist groups. The Communist oriented New People’s Army (NPA) insurgent groups from 1960s recruited youth nationwide to join the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA). They are inherently voluntary for indoctrinating student activist who uses idealism and dynamism to encourage armed rebellion against the State. They are also forced youth member who fights for the promised wages and support for their family; they are typically from the 1930s owner-tenant-poverty condition leading to agrarian revolution of overthrowing the Philippine government. These are common motivators that drive youth involvement in political violence generally.

These dynamics indicate the central importance of physically securing civilian populations as a way of disrupting terrorist recruitment. This is especially true of soft targets such as residential schools.

Social or Political Marginalization – Individuals’ feelings of exclusion from their community or society (whether real or perceived) play a role in terrorist recruitment. A research project called the Youth Survey in Violent Extremism in Mindanao concluded that there is a consistent strength of violence for Islam’s belief of being under attack. It showed significant results of them not giving trust in Government due aspects of government neglecting them, historical marginalization of Moro and Christians, and feeling that one’s community is threatened of Globalization. Terrorist groups have positioned themselves as an alternative community that promises young people a voice, a sense of belonging, and opportunity to participate in something greater than themselves.

It is deemed so important to understand the local social, cultural, and political context drivers of extremism on target population in resolving disputes. International and Local organizations, including the World Bank and the United Nations, emphasize integrating young people into decision-making processes as a way to counter this sense of disaffection.

Permissive Family and Social Networks – Selective recruitment often occurs through family networks, peers, or social institutions (including educational institutions). Weak family structures can make young people more vulnerable to terrorist recruitment. During the 2017 ISIS inspired siege in the Southern Philippines, some youth in Mindanao engages in ruthless battles with the armed forces. There are evidences that family and social networks played a larger role in guiding radicalization and membership in armed groups than any specific grievances or social and economic factors did - connecting with a family who are socially and politically marginalized community, having their predecessor to commit violent extremism.

Surprisingly, family as well serve as the important source of resiliency against violent extremism. Risk assessments made by USAID on violent extremism highlighted the central role that families play in young people’s lives and indicated the need for incorporating families into terrorism prevention efforts. It suggests that family ties, and women’s roles in families, create psychological barriers for husbands, sons, or other male relatives to join violent extremist groups. Others have asserted that women may serve as motivators for male family members to join. Thus, understanding the role of gender at the local level is fundamental.

Vulnerability to Propaganda – Youth are often seen as especially vulnerable to terrorist propaganda. People’s political beliefs and values are shaped in part by events and issues of their time. Evidence collected from people who experience depression from previous war are politically motivated to commit violent extremism. The Cohort Model from the Vietnam war shares that young adults who grew profoundly during this event showed the impact on their identity development.

In the Philippines, fragments of 1970’s NPA archive, showed signs of urban resistance found after a year of martial law declaration, appearing as well beginning in the church, the schools, and spreading quickly to industrial factories. Jose Ma. Sison took charge in building the urban underground networks and the first units of the New People’s Army (NPA), the CPP’s armed guerrilla force. He recalls that as a result of the student protests of the 1970-72 period, “a proliferation of mass organizations…yielded a large number of militant mass activists and party cadres who volunteered to join the party and the NPA in the countryside”. NPA’s ideology still prospers up to this time despite counter measure efforts by the government.

The UN has now put efforts to mitigate the impact of terrorist propaganda are often focused on media. But it is important to remember that educational institutions may facilitate radicalization. Introducing critical thinking and media literacy skills into school curricula is seen as an important way to reduce the vulnerability of youth to propaganda. Youth resilience to radicalization includes programs that amplify leaders’ voices and foster coordination between educators and religious leaders. Efforts to teach the youth why violent extremism is wrong are seen as one of the most effective measures to prevent terrorism.


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