Shamima Begum was a victim of child trafficking

In 2015, 15-year-old Shamima Begum left her home in Bethnal Green to go to Syria.

It was the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Daesh) who encouraged her and two of her friends to flee the country, after promising to provide them a better and more fulfilling life. This promised life ended up consisting of underage marriage within the first two weeks of Begum’s arrival, underage sex, and marital rape.

I find it difficult to understand how not everyone views this case of one of the clearest forms of child grooming and trafficking there is.

In my opinion, the most interesting aspect of this case is how the government and media instantly treated her. In the UK, 15-year-olds have little to no dependency on their lives, they cannot get married, they cannot apply for a passport, they cannot even work full-time yet. If a child in this country ran away from home to the neighbouring town or village, we would not blame the child, we would blame the authorities around them for not spotting them and the signs sooner, right?

Yet, as soon as the case became public knowledge, the media leeched on and presented this child as a villain who was in full control of her decisions. This same girl would not have been allowed to set up her own debit card because this country would have deemed her as being too young to make sensible decisions on her own. Shamima was surrounded by adults throughout her life, teachers, police, border control, all of whom failed to protect her. Yet it is Shamima who is villainised instead of those who failed to stop her leaving the country.

After failing to help a victim of child trafficking, the UK government then proceeded to revoke Shamima’s British citizenship.

It should be known that I understand there are rules in place, and how the UK government did in fact warn those who entered Syria willingly may lose their right to British citizenship. However, I believe the government fails to acknowledge this fine line between willingly leaving the country and being groomed at 15 years old. Yes, Shamima realised this was a risk and as such many people in this country feel as though she has no right to attempt to rectify it, but a 15-year-old girl realising how something will affect her life so drastically is extremely different to an adult’s understanding (without sounding patronising).

She was exploited for the poor choices she made at 15. This decision by the British government to strip her of her citizenship was wrong and appalling. This young girl should have been protected by her own government, not left to fend for herself. While in Syria, she has lost three children, two of which from malnutrition, and the third in the refugee camp. By law, this child was a British citizen and therefore should have been brought back into the UK, as other children were in November 2019.

By stripping Shamima of her citizenship, it left her stateless, which is against the law. There is no disagreement on my part that she has stated questionable things, but the difference is I find it hard to listen to these words and see them as coming solely from her. How can we forget these are words from someone who not only was groomed but also then ostracised and abused by her own country? This young woman cannot be singled out and held responsible for the horrors of ISIS. That, to me, shows the complete ignorance of this country and the incredibly dangerous ways in which the media enables racism.

Shamima Begum was never a threat. She was a child, and she was a victim. The government failed to protect a child.

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Lauren Bramwell

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October 2021
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