Last month, the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019 came into force, stipulating that somebody convicted of entering certain parts of Syria with the intention of joining Islamic State can be jailed for up to 10 years.
However the precedent set for juvenile Isis recruits remains ambiguous, especially when adults are involved in getting them to Syria.
The line between coercion and self-determination has become increasingly blurred, and debates have raged on about how much agency we ascribe to radicalised teenagers.
Shamima Begum was 15 when she left her Bethnal Green home with two friends to live under IS rule, after being persuaded to do so by adults online. Former counter-terrorism chief Mark Rowley told Radio 4 that Begum had been a victim of grooming.
Following her plea to return to the UK, Secretary of State Sajid Javid, under the powers afforded to him through Section 40 of the British Nationality Act, revoked her citizenship.
Begum’s lawyer, Tasnime Akunjee, told MM: “There’s no possible way that he actually applied, or even turned his mind to the issues of victim of trafficking legislation – when it comes to children we do actually have a lot of legislation that does protect children, the issue is whether it’s applied or not.”
It’s not uncommon for victims of child grooming to find themselves committing criminal acts. In instances where victims have been groomed for no other reason than sexual exploitation, and not flown thousands of miles to join a caliphate, MPs have campaigned tirelessly to absolve them of any culpability.
Speaking in reference to the Rochdale grooming case earlier this year, MP for Sheffield Heeley, Louise Haigh, told Parliament “these victims are not only forced to live with their trauma but also convictions linked to their sexual exploitation in childhood – this punitive rule means they simply cannot escape a past in which they were victims.”
Parliament, the law, and public opinion all appear to be undecided on what difference there is between being groomed by a sex gang and a terrorist cell.
Dr. Cristina Izura, principal investigator of The Online Grooming Communication Research Project, says “I don’t think it’s different. It’s an external difference.
“It’s the way in which society might view the two offences. They are more capable of seeing a girl as a victim if she’s been a victim of sexual abuse but they don’t have the same kind of empathy for a girl of the same age who might travel to Syria for radicalisation issues.”
Image courtesy of CBS News via YouTube, with thanks.