Youth threatening to join IS leaves experts ‘at a loss’

Dutch children placed in foster homes for wanting to become jihadists offered no help

Seven Dutch children who have threatened to travel to Iraq or Syria to join Islamic State (IS) or jihadists are being held in secure young people's homes – leaving experts "at a loss" as to how to handle them.

Another nine children have been placed with foster families either because they have said they want to become jihadists or to remove them from homes where social workers believed they were in imminent danger of becoming radicalised by their parents or other family members.

The problem is that once the children – of various ages but all under 18, the age of majority in the Netherlands – are placed in institutions or foster homes, that is where the authorities' emergency response usually ends.

They are offered no actual treatment, said a spokesman for the Netherlands’ Child Protection Council, who readily admitted that they posed a completely new and troubling challenge to its expertise.



“We are at a loss. We simply don’t know how to deal with them. It is very frustrating to see that children who need treatment are not getting any help.”

Because staff have little nor no experience with children of this background, even the way in which the children are housed and allowed to relate to their peers differs.

In some cases, the radicalised youngsters are held in isolation for fear that the force of their convictions could influence others of their age.

However, in other cases, they are encouraged to mix with their peers in the hope of showing them just how far from the norm their radicalisation has made them.

Given this confusion, it’s little surprise that deciding what to do about the children of jihadists or would-be jihadists is becoming one of the most difficult new social problems facing European governments.

Experts say that jihadist groups typically begin indoctrinating children as young as four – and the world has been shocked by pictures of the seven-year-old son of Australian IS fighter, Khaled Sharrouf, holding a severed head by the hair.

Suicide bombers

“You are seeing the jihadists trying to create a new pool of suicide bombers”, says psychotherapist Mohammed Khalil of the Arab Foundation for Care of Victims of War and Torture.

“You can influence children very easily. They give these lost children an identity and prestige. They saturate them with jihadist thinking and, in effect, brainwash them. They are co-opting them into a way of life that will be very hard to shake off later.”

The Dutch security service, AIVD, says that since mid-2014 and the declaration of the IS “Caliphate”, the number of Dutch Muslim women leaving to join IS has risen “rapidly”.

There are now more than 40 Dutch women living in IS-controlled areas, it says, along with approximately 30 Dutch children under the age of 10, around half of whom were born there.

In an increasing number of cases, both parents are deciding to move with their families to the conflict area. This makes it increasingly difficult for children to avoid radicalisation at home – and almost impossible to avoid following the same route unless the Dutch state intervenes.

Peter Cluskey

Peter Cluskey

Peter Cluskey is a journalist and broadcaster based in The Hague, where he covers Dutch news and politics plus the work of organisations such as the International Criminal Court