A British woman who travelled to Isis territory and gave birth in Syria – in a case mirroring Shamima Begum’s – was not prosecuted when she returned to Britain but had her child taken into care, a report has revealed.
Debate has raged over the fate of 19-year-old Ms Begum after it was revealed the Isis supporter was in a Syrian camp, where she gave birth to a son at the weekend, and wanted to return to Britain.
Now a report from the Henry Jackson Society, a British foreign policy think tank, has revealed another woman who travelled back to the UK from Isis territories was not prosecuted.
However, her daughter – identified only as child J for legal reasons – was taken out of her care aged 10 months because the mother’s support for Isis put her at risk of “significant harm”.
The girl is one of at least 156 children who have been subject to legal proceedings involving extremism concerns in the past five years.
The author of the first-ever report on such cases said the “striking parallels” between Ms Begum’s case and the mother of child J shows what may happen if her pleas to be repatriated to Britain are answered. Although this is less likely now after the home secretary, Sajid Javid, took the decision to remove Ms Begum’s UK citizenship.
Nikita Malik, director of the Centre on Radicalisation and Terrorism, found judges had been inconsistent and not enough information was being shared between security services and family courts.
“What really shocked me is that the Ministry of Justice really had no clue how many children have been affected by extremism, and only started to measure this problem in 2017,” she told The Independent.
“These are British families, they remain in the UK, and they set a precedent for what we could do with returnees.
“It was just a problem waiting to happen and now we need to ensure that we’re able to deal with new and returning children.”
A Home Office document published last year said around 100 children had been prevented from being taken to Syria and Iraq since 2015, but there is no official estimate of the number who reached Isis territory or have been born to British extremists living there.
Isis has advertised its indoctrination of children and use of child soldiers, and Ms Malik said even those not involved in fighting could be “emotionally disturbed” by their exposure to violence.
A boy known only as child Y, who was taken to Isis territories by his mother and returned at the age of two, later showed a “marked and persistent interest in guns and ‘shooting people’”, a High Court judge found before putting him in his grandmother’s care.
More than half of 20 cases that could be examined in detail using public documents included families influenced by Anjem Choudary’s al-Muhajiroun Islamist group, 18 per cent had been influenced by Isis, and one was sparked by a father’s support for the English Defence League.
The children considered by family courts included those who attempted to travel to Isis territories themselves, were taken abroad by their parents or were being radicalised at home.
The report found that girls in the sample were “more active and independent” in seeking out extremist material, while boys tended to join a terrorist organisation under the influence of their families.
More than half had extremist relatives, 67 per cent of their families had a history of domestic abuse or crime, 60 per cent had parents who had separated, and 38 per cent were homeschooled or attended sporadically.
Some were made a ward of the court and put under travel restrictions, while others were put in the care of family members, but some cases ended with no action.
In one case, a High Court judge discontinued the wardship of children whose mother was detained on the Syrian border – and had Isis flags and extremist material – because the “burden of proof [that she was trying to join Isis] was not met”.
But a different judge put full care orders in place for children after their family were detained on the way to Syria, after finding there was “no good explanation” for the journey.
Ms Malik said the “piecemeal approach” could be dangerous, and called for centralised guidance on extremism cases and an improved understanding of radicalisation in family courts, warning: “This problem isn’t going to go away.”
A government spokesperson said: “We are committed to ensuring our courts system, and society more widely, can effectively deal with the threat of radicalisation.
“The law is clear that the child’s welfare is the paramount consideration for judges when making decisions in each case. In fact, the courts protected 50 children from being taken to conflict areas in 2015.
“Local authorities and the police also use a range of powers to protect returning children and support their welfare, while assessing any potential risk from exposure to extremist views.”
Update: This article has been updated following clarification from the Cafcass support service that 156 children were subject to legal proceedings that included extremism concerns, but may have not been started because of extremism.
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