Youth and Violent Extremism

There is a need to look beyond stereotypes and general assumptions, to examine the evidence about which young people actively participate in conflict and why – and more importantly why the majority of young people do not actively engage in violence, including those at highest risk. There is a growing body of research on why some young people are more prone to join violent groups or otherwise take violent action, which suggests that a range of interrelated factors influence how and why particular a young person engages in violence in his or her specific context.

  • Their biological, psychological and social transitional stage of development may mean some youth are more vulnerable to recruitment into armed groups.
  • In some circumstances, young people may conclude that to join an armed group offers them better future prospects – in terms of access to income, resources, protection or social status.
  • Many young people suffer significant levels of social, economic and political exclusion. This and the associated lack of opportunities, impedes or prolongs their transition to adulthood. Such grievances and the associated frustrations may lead some young people to engage in violence.
  • In circumstances where young men are not able to fulfil traditional or socially expected male roles (e.g. as a breadwinner) they may engage in violence as an assertion of their masculinity. Equally, some young women may engage in violence to challenge dominant gender norms, gain status, access resources or as a means of protection from other violence.

However, the key message of the relevant research is that many young people suffer high levels of relative deprivation and exclusion, and many young men are unable to obtain the conditions for socially accepted “manhood” and yet most do not engage in violence.

UNFPA, Youth, Peace and Security: The Time to Act is Now, Paper (August 2015)
Humphreys, M. and J. M. Weinstein. 2008. “Who Fights? The Determinants of Participation in Civil War.” American Journal of Political Science 52(2): 436-455.
Barker, G. 2005. “Why the Worry about Young men?” Ch.1 in: Dying to be Men: Youth, Masculinity and Social Exclusion, edited by Barker, G. 2005. London: Routledge.