The Swedish government asked the Ombudsman for Children in Sweden (a state agency agency tasked with representing children and their rights based on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child) to speak with kids who have personal experience of violent Islamic extremism or know people who have.
The results show that a violent upbringing, lack of identity, and hope for the future are among the contributing factors to their vulnerability.
“One factor we've highlighted that's particularly important is these kids live with violence in their environment: they live with shootings, stone-throwing, drug trade, gang crime. They live with that in their everyday lives,” Sweden's deputy Ombudsman for Children Anna Karin Hildingson Boqvist told The Local.
“There are other contributing factors. A feeling of alienation, being excluded, that they're vulnerable, and a lack of hope for their future. That they don’t believe they can do well in school or have a family. Racism is also a factor, and difficult family relationships.”
One child spoken to for the report said that many of the kids have no friends, sit at home then “go online and look at videos, propaganda videos and so on”.
“They're shown happy images from Syria, Iraq etc and think 'I have no friends here in Sweden, but there I’ll have everything'. Of course you travel down, because here in Sweden you have nothing.”
The report suggests clear links between socioeconomic problems and exposure to extremism, with all of the children spoken to coming from areas classified as “vulnerable” or “especially vulnerable” by Sweden's police.
According to the Ombudsman for Children, there are few Swedish studies in the area based on the perspective of the children affected.
“Knowledge about this is relatively new, but the risk factors aren't new. The risk factors can lead to different things, this one – violent Islamic extremism – is one very specific thing. But it could also lead other outcomes, like crime for example,” Hildingson Boqvist explained.
Sweden needs to do more to help the children, the report says, arguing that their stories show failures in protecting them from violence, as enshrined in the UN Convention of the Child.
“We definitely need to do more. The first thing we need to do is place some focus on how vulnerable they are to violence. We speak a lot about violence against children in different forms – violence in the family for example, violence at school, but the obligation to protect children from violence is something enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and we need to see the violence these children live with as part of that, which right now we don't sufficiently do,” Hildingson Boqvist noted.
“On top of that, society needs to do a number of things. Which is why we’ve proposed a national plan of action to tackle violence against children. We also highlight the adults around these children, who have to help kids to be aware of their rights – freedom of expression, opinion, thought. That’s something the kids themselves ask about: adults have to make the effort to speak about these things.”
Along with the suggestion of creating a national plan of action, the Ombudsman for Children also proposes that Swedish authorities should get more children and youths involved in work against violence, schools should speak more with kids about the issue, and that Swedes more readily report any concerns they have children may be getting involved in violent Islamic extremism to the social services.