Prevent Strategy targets children with no links to terrorism

Date: 1st November 2016
Category: Child justice system, Protection of privacy

The UK government's Prevent strategy is targeting broad groups of children who have no links to terrorism, according to a new report by Open Society Justice Initiative.

The report calls on the government to repeal the statutory duty on teachers and health professionals to identify children vulnerable to radicalisation and take action in such cases. Interviews with parents, as well as education and health professionals brought to light a series of examples in which children have been inappropriately singled out and referred to the 'Channel' programme (referred to as 'Prevent Professional Concerns' or 'PPC' in Scotland) set up to deal with those displaying early signs of "radicalisation". However, training received by teachers has reportedly included indicators of children's "radicalisation" such as strong political beliefs, changes in the way they dress and a drop in grades. Such broad indicators may have serious implications for children's freedom of expression and right to privacy. In March the National Union of Teachers backed a motion calling for Prevent to be scrapped and in July Parliament's joint committee on human rights called for an independent review of the strategy.

The situation in the UK reflects a global problem. With terrorist acts making the news almost every day, the threat of terrorism and the means to fight it have become a key concern for policy makers, law enforcement agencies and the population in general. Terrorism and counter-terrorism measures have devastating consequences for human rights, but their impact on children is heightened because of their age and the fact that they are left out of the debates around preventing terrorism and radicalisation. In a submission to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Child Rights International Network (CRIN) asserts that governments have a responsibility to protect those within their jurisdiction from terrorist attacks, but cautions that any attempt to counter terrorism raises the question of its compatibility with international human rights law and standards. It argues that government responses to fear of terrorism and radicalisation result in excessive measures that infringe a whole range of human rights, whether this is through a vague or overbroad definition of terrorist acts or by granting excessive powers to law enforcement agencies.