Children recruited and exploited by terrorist and violent extremist groups are often victims of extreme violence, including ferocious recruitment methods, enslavement, sexual exploitation, exposure to constant fear, indoctrination and psychological pressure. These children subjected to violence at multiple levels, and, at the same time, have the potential to become particularly dangerous instruments in the hands of those exploiting them and/or instrumentalizing them for committing criminal and terrorism-related offences. Countries are increasingly facing challenges in combining effective prevention and responses to violence perpetrated against children, while at the same time providing adequate accountability mechanisms to preserve public safety. The current wave of returning foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs) also poses emerging threats and challenges to law enforcement and judicial authorities to deal with child returnees from conflict zones.

Thousands of children (individuals under the age of 18) have been abducted, recruited, used, or otherwise associated with terrorist and violent extremist groups in the past years.
Given the mandates and expertise of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in the areas of violence against children, justice for children and counter-terrorism, the Office is uniquely positioned to support countries in their efforts to provide effective responses to the complex challenges raised by children recruited and exploited by terrorist and violent extremist groups.


Within the framework of the UNODC Global Programme on Violence against Children (UNODC ENDVAC), the specific project on "Preventing and Responding to Violence against Children Recruited and Exploited by Terrorist and Violent Extremist Groups" enables to design and implement technical assistance providing national authorities with tools to address the violence against children global challenge.


  1. Preventing child recruitment and exploitation by terrorist and violent extremist groups
  2. Promoting the effective rehabilitation and reintegration of children involved with terrorist and violent extremist groups
  3. Promoting justice for children in the context of counter- terrorism


  1. At the global level, UNODC provides guidance to countries on how children involved with terrorist and violent extremist groups should be treated by national authorities. The UNODC guidance is contained in four technical assistance tools: the UNODC Handbook published in 2018 and the three UNODC Training Manuals to be published in 2019.
  2. At the national level, specialised assistance has been provided including: technical assistance needs assessment; legislative assistance and legal advisory services; collection and analysis of data; support to strategic planning to the public sector; institution and capacity building; information, advocacy and awareness raising.
  3. At the regional level, UNODC has conducted a number of regional capacity-building activities in West and Eastern Africa, the Middle East and North Africa, and Central, South and South-East Asia, benefitting more than 25 countries.
The Handbook was developed to provide coherent guidance to national authorities on the treatment of children recruited and exploited by terrorist and violent extremist groups.


Designed to complement and build on the Handbook, the Training Manuals aim to support practitioners and policy-makers in the design and implementation of effective interventions:

  1. Prevention of Child Recruitment and Exploitation: Help justice professionals appreciate the role that the justice system can play in cooperation with other systems to protect children, and empower professionals to understand the complex nature of child recruitment and to design comprehensive strategies to prevent it.
  2. Rehabilitation and Reintegration of Child Victims of Recruitment and Exploitation: Empower professionals to develop and implement effective and comprehensive rehabilitation and reintegration strategies to support children who have experienced association with terrorist and violent extremist groups.
  3. Justice for Children in the Context of Counter-terrorism: Offer practical guidance to justice professionals on how to deal with children who are alleged as, accused of, or recognized as having committed terrorism-related offences, and sets out strategies and tools that are in accordance with international law.
The guidance contained is derived from an in-depth analysis of the complex various legal regimes that apply to this phenomenon and based on International human rights law • International legal framework on counter-terrorism • International humanitarian law • International criminal law
This project contributes to assisting countries in reaching the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), notably, Goals 5 and 16, aimed at achieving “gender equality” and “peace, justice, and strong instructions”, respectively, and in particular target 16.2 on ending violence against children.
Millions of children throughout the world suffer harm as a result of crime and abuse of power, and as a result, come into contact with the criminal justice system. The vulnerabilities of children in criminal justice processes, due to their age and still developing levels of maturity, require that special measures be taken to ensure their rights are adequately protected.

Roadmap on the Treatment of Children Recruited and Exploited by Terrorist and Violent Extremist Groups

The Roadmap is the result of 3 years of technical assistance work by UNODC to Member States that are affected by this phenomenon. It builds upon the twofold mandates of UNODC in the areas of violence against children and counter-terrorism, as well as on an increased understanding of the challenges and promising practices in this area. The Roadmap aims to achieve an enhanced system-wide coherence that supports national priorities and needs.
The Roadmap addresses the treatment of all children associated with terrorist and violent extremist groups, regardless of the different types or methods for association and recruitment and of the different purposes for which the child has been used by the group.

The goal of the justice for children approach is to ensure that children, defined by the Convention on the Rights of the Child as all persons under the age of eighteen, are better served and protected by justice systems, including the security and social welfare sectors. It specifically aims to ensure the full application of international norms and standards for all children who come into contact with justice systems as victims, witnesses and alleged offenders, or for other reasons where judicial, state administrative or non-state adjudicatory intervention is needed, for example regarding care, custody or protection.

Bali, March 2020 - Protecting children from terrorism: Indonesia launches the “Bali Call for Action for the implementation of the UNODC Roadmap”

At the conclusion of the event 'UNODC Roadmap in Action' (Bali, March 2020), the government of Indonesia launched the “Bali Call for Action”, a political declaration which endorses the UNODC Roadmap and commits to translate it into action at national level. With this initiative, Indonesia also called upon Member States to join this historical declaration as a unique opportunity to adopt a common approach to protect children from terrorism.

UNODC Global Programme to END VAC contributed to the Inter-Agency Technical Guidance on COVID-19 and Children Deprived of Liberty and offers tailored technical assistance.