Following my recent article for Al Jazeera on the British government’s Prevent counter-extremism policy and its impact on Muslim communities, I have now obtained official tallies of the number of children identified through the Channel programme as being at risk of being drawn into terrorism.
One-hundred-and-fifty-three children under the age of 12 and hundreds more under 18 have been referred into the programme since its inception in 2007, according to figures released to me via a Freedom of Information request to the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO).
The breakdown of figures shows that 690 children aged 12-15 and 554 aged 16-17 were referred up to January 2014. A further 2,196 people aged over 18 were also referred.
The figures show a significant increase in the number of referrals since ACPO released details of the total (2,653) up to the end of March 2013 last year.
The new total figure of 3,593 indicates at least 940 referrals since then; a year-on-year increase of about a quarter on 748 referrals in 2012-13.
ACPO disclosed last year that 930 individuals referred up to March 2013 were under 18 years of age. That suggests that at least 467 under 18-year-olds have been referred in the past 12 months; more than a third of all juvenile referrals since 2007.
The government’s guide to Channel describes the programme as a key element of the Prevent strategy. It is described as a multi-agency process to “provide support to individuals who are at risk of being drawn into terrorist related activity”.
But some members of the Muslim community have complained that the programme is discriminatory and amounts to a form of surveillance.
Jahangir Mohammed, the c0-author of a critical recent report on Prevent published by the human rights organisation CAGE, said: “These figures show that the net of those considered susceptible to “radicalism” and potentially terrorism is being cast to pick up more and more people. The idea that there are 843 people aged 0-15 and 554 aged 16-17 that are potential terrorists is simply ludicrous. The figures are a sign of a failed policy . There is an urgent need for a review of the nature of referrals and public scrutiny of how the policy is operating including the training being provided. ”
ACPO says that “the greatest threat that the UK currently faces is from terrorists who claim to act in the name of Islam, and who specifically target Muslims. Therefore Prevent activity such as the support offered through Channel predominately takes place in and with Muslim communities”.
Between April 2012 and the end of March 2013 the percentage of referrals that were recorded as being Muslim was 57 per cent.
Referrals to Channel are coordinated by the police but the programme involves local authority-run children’s and adult welfare services, as well as those working in education and healthcare sectors and community and voluntary services.
Individuals referred into the programme are typically assessed by a panel to identify an appropriate “support package” for their requirements.
Not all of those referred are deemed to require further intervention. Last year ACPO said that about 22 per cent of referrals were assessed to be vulnerable to being drawn towards terrorism and received support.
A Freedom of Information request for a breakdown of referrals to Channel by sector was declined on the grounds that releasing that information could compromise national security and the prevention and detection of crime.
Last week London Mayor Boris Johnson sparked outrage in Muslim communities by writing in a newspaper column that children deemed to be at risk of “the contagion of radical Islamic extremism” should be taken into care.
Johnson’s comments sparked outrage on Twitter with many Muslims using the hashtag #SignsOfARadicalBaby to lampoon the mayor’s views.