Posted: 08 March 2019

Grooming and statelessness: who gets to be a victim?

Shamima Begum’s ongoing case provides important insight into grooming cases and the rights of vulnerable children and young people.

Shamima Begum’s story has received a lot of public attention. Aged 15, Shamima and two friends left home to travel to Syria to marry older men in the Islamic State group.

Now having faced the deep trauma of losing three children by the age of 19, including her son Jarrah most recently, Shamima is living in a Syrian refugee camp. The Home Secretary decided to revoke Shamima’s citizenship and prevent her return, which her family is seeking to challenge.

This sets a concerning precedent for Shamima and other young people in similar circumstances; those groomed as children who face their citizenship being revoked without due process. It also raises serious concerns around the treatment of British children and considerations about their best interests, based on their parent’s actions. Her baby was a British citizen who wasn't treated as such.

Old enough to know better?

In cases of grooming, coercion or control, victims are often targeted for their vulnerability. With promises of a better life or rewards, young people may be manipulated into believing that their exploitation is a display of affection and respect. It can take years for these young people to recognise their own exploitation, especially if they’re still developing an understanding of risk and harm.

Teenage young women face high risks of sexual exploitation and signs of grooming can go unnoticed, especially due to a ‘culture of denial’. We documented this type of vulnerability in our report, Old enough to know better? 

Sometimes sexual exploitation victims also perpetrate crime, similar to criminal exploitation victims. A victim’s status is not always clear-cut, but they deserve support nonetheless.

When Shamima and her friends first left, concerns about their vulnerability were raised. Our research has found that a ‘culture of silence’ and structural racism can prevent young women from South Asian backgrounds being supported as victims of sexual exploitation. Without identifying the exploitation these young people suffer, we miss an opportunity to protect others encountering similar risks. 

We must ask questions about steps taken by local authorities and others, when risks of young people going missing arise. Internet providers also have a responsibility to work collaboratively with child safety experts to help safeguard young people online. 

In the case of Shamima, there is no evidence that she has committed a crime, yet the drastic actions of the Government have rendered her stateless.

Statelessness and the law

Shamima faces being left stateless and unable to return to her country of birth. This contradicts the Government’s own guidance on these cases. In some similar cases of revoking citizenship, the Government has acted unlawfully. We are also concerned that these decisions risk creating a two-tier system for British young people from migrant backgrounds, alienating more young people from our communities.

The articles on non-discrimination from the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) state the right of every child to acquire a nationality and to be registered at birth, and the right of every child to preserve their identity, both of which would have affected Shamima’s baby Jarrah before his death. It is right to question whether the Government considered Jarrah’s best interests (Article 3 UNCRC), and the international law on statelessness, before refusing the family’s return.

The need to protect rights

We can’t be selective about the rights of young people based on what we personally believe about their behaviour.

Shamima fell through the gaps of statutory support and faced punitive action because of wrongs she is associated with. This demonstrates the difficulties all exploited young people face if they don’t fit a ‘victim’ profile . The Government must review its actions in this case and also ensure we do not see a repeat going forwards.

By Rupinder Parhar - Policy team

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