Children under ten years old are being referred to the government’s counter-radicalisation programme on an almost daily basis, the latest figures have revealed.
In the year to June, a total of 4,611 people were flagged for possible intervention to stop them becoming radicalised, freedom of information figures obtained from the National Police Chiefs’ Council by the Telegraph have revealed.
Of those, around half were under-18s, including 352 children aged nine or under – nearly one for every day of the year, on average.
Those flagged up are referred to Channel, part of the government’s Prevent strategy to combat extremism, and are offered voluntary support to turn away from embracing radicalised agendas.
Although the strategy is designed to tackle all forms of extremism, including far-right ideologies as well as Islamist terror, 70 per cent of those referred were suspected of being drawn into Islamist movements, whereas just 15 per cent were linked to the far right.
The number of referrals have jumped a massive 75 per cent in the year since public services including schools and local councils were handed a statutory duty to watch out for the signs of radicalisation and intervene in suspected cases.
Referrals from schools alone jumped to 1,121 – up from 537 the previous year.
Jonathan Russell, head of policy at counter-extremism think tank Quilliam, said a number of factors may be driving the increase including frontline staff being better equipped to spot signs of radicalistaion – and an upswing in the amount of radicalisation, linked to the “increased visilibility” of Islamic State.
“The important thing to note is that the stats show that trained professionals think an increasing number of young people are vulnerable to radicalisation,” he said.
The Prevent strategy has come under fire from the left and from Muslim communities who accuse the government of Islamophobia, and of persecuting Muslims in Britain.
The National Union of Students (NUS) voted last year to boycott the strategy, while the National Union of Teachers (NUT) backed a motion at its annual conference calling for the strategy to be scrapped.
Writing in the Guardian in April, Dr. Fahid Qurashi, a lecturer in criminology at Canterbury Christ Church University, asserted: “Prevent is an exercise in Islamophobia that continues to undermine democracy, equality, and justice. The state is complicit in undermining ‘British values’ rather than upholding them.”
However, Raffaello Pantucci, director of international security studies at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), said that a number of high profile cases of British teenagers heading out to join Islamic State had made teachers more aware that the risk of radicalisation is real and needs addressing.
“I suspect it’s a case of people being more alert to the issue,” he said.
“If we have stories in the press about children as young as 13 going out to Syria and Iraq, then they become more alert to the problem.
“We have seen a growth in quite young people going out to fight in these places.
“I think we are seeing a very downward trajectory in terms of the ages of people who are participating in extremist activity.”
Meanwhile terror analysts are reporting that police are finding that younger and younger children are being exposed to terrorist ideologies online, while one social worker from East London told the Telegraph that she was now regularly having to report rebellious and often troubled Muslim teenagers to the police for espousing Islamist views picked up on the internet.
A spokesman from the Home Office pointed out that the programme is voluntary, and that not every referral results in action.
“We have a duty to challenge, at every turn, the twisted narrative that has exploited some of our vulnerable young people,” he said.
“Many referrals to the programme require no further action, some are referred to other services for support, while for others receiving support through Channel is the right option.
“Like safeguarding mechanisms for other risks such as child sexual exploitation, vulnerable children deserve to have the support they need.”