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We owe it to young people to let Shamima Begum return home

As a British Muslim woman, parent and teacher, I’m horrified by the home secretary’s handling of the Begum case.

Anjum Peerbacos
27 February 2019

 PA

Renu, eldest sister of Shamima Begum, 15, holds her sister's photo. Image: PA

Home Secretary Sajid Javid clearly does not have faith in our judicial processes, and in the case of Shamima Begum, has decided to take matters into his own hands. Last week, Javid announced that Begum was being stripped of her British citizenship, making her stateless. Javid has effectively made himself Begum's judge and jury.

Once again, the home secretary is pandering to the far right – and in so doing, abusing his powers in furtherance of his political ambitions. As William Schabas, professor of international law at Middlesex University, explains, “by obstructing her right to return, the government is violating international law.”

“The UN international covenant on civil and political rights, which the UK has ratified, declares: ‘No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country’... Even deprived of her citizenship, there can be no doubt the UK remains Shamima Begum’s ‘own country’ as she has no other.”

This horrendous breach of international law sets an extremely dangerous precedent.

This horrendous breach of international law sets an extremely dangerous precedent. For Shamima Begum herself, at 19, she has already experienced a marriage of sorts, and the deaths of two children, all away from the support of her family, and loved ones. One can only assume that she is in a state of shock and denial. She could be suffering from postnatal depression and post-traumatic disorder. Pregnancy and childbirth alone are difficult and challenging times for any woman. To experience those things in an alien environment can be incredibly traumatic.

Sajid Javid has left a young woman isolated and alienated even further. Bangladesh have stated clearly that Shamima is not their problem. By removing Shamima’s citizenship we have abdicated all our responsibility towards this teenager, and left her at the mercy of the likes of ISIS and other groups. This can only be an awful alternative for her and her newborn baby. And what of the baby? He is a British citizen, Javid has confirmed, but case law suggests there is a very real threat he could be taken from his mother.

As a child of migrants all this makes me incredibly nervous. Could this mean that I could have my citizenship stripped of me because my parents were both born abroad? And what about my children? Their grandparents are from India, but they have never been.

The Windrush Scandal is still fresh in our minds. The Begum case only reconfirms the problematic attitude the Conservatives have towards immigration, race and people of colour. Are all children of migrants now to be deemed second-class citizens? Were our parents right all along? Is this not my home, not my children's’ home? Can those of us from a different country of origin now have our citizenship revoked without a trial or due process?

As a parent of a teenager and a teacher of teenagers I know all too well that often they think they are in-charge and know what they are doing, when they don’t.

And finally, Javid’s handling of the case is letting down other young people. As a parent of a teenager and a teacher of teenagers I know all too well that often they think they are in-charge and know what they are doing, when they don’t. Fifteen-year-olds are impressionable. They are vulnerable to being groomed online. That is what happened to Shamima.

Parents want their children to be safe at all times, including online. We can take some measures as parents to ensure their safety – we can keep screens, tablets, phones and computers in communal areas, rather than bedrooms. We can try to ensure our children only engage with people online that they know in person. We can try to ensure they are not spending every waking hour in front of screens and tablets, but have other activities in their day.

But ultimately, some children are more susceptible to being groomed online. Shamima was one of them. She became a victim of grooming – and we need to find out why. Why was Shamima so disconnected with her immediate family and immediate society – disconnected to the point that she felt a pull from thousands of miles away? Why did she feel the need leave her home and family and all that was familiar to her, to go and become a bride in a foreign land with foreign people?

Was the entire experience romanticised for her? Only when we ask her can we know and prevent others from becoming prey to the same grooming process. Only when she returns can we learn from her experiences.  

But while stripped of her British citizenship Shamima is stateless and ideal prey for other predatory groups like ISIS. I dread to think what the future holds for this abandoned teenage mother and her newborn baby.

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