Police should have helped Shamima Begum return to Britain after she joined Islamic State in Syria because there were reasons to suspect she had been groomed as a child bride, a court has heard.
Samantha Knights KC told a tribunal that police had a duty to investigate whether Begum, who was 15 when she left the UK, was a victim of human trafficking, and then help her return if she was.
On the second day of a Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac) hearing, Knights said children “cannot consent to their own exploitation”.
She told the hearing: “Children allegedly associated or associated with terrorist groups are, in fact, often victims of terrorism and human trafficking.”
Knights said the government has a duty to prevent trafficking, identify perpetrators, assist victims and help them return home.
Begum, now 23, left her home in East London in 2015 while a GCSE student at Bethnal Green academy. She married an IS soldier from the Netherlands within days of her arrival and had three children, none of whom survived.
She was stripped of her British citizenship in February 2019 on grounds of national security by the then Home Secretary, Sajid Javid.
The government’s Modern Slavery Strategy, introduced in November 2014, mandated an obligation to pursue perpetrators, prevent involvement in slavery or exploitation, and improve victim identification.
“Children cannot consent to being trafficked, nor can they consent to child marriage,” Knights said.
Under international law, a child marriage occurs when at least one party is under the age of 18 and is considered a forced marriage, Knights told the hearing.
Article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights imposes an operational duty to assist victims of trafficking and aid their rescue and recovery, the court heard.
Knights said: “It is beyond dispute that there was credible suspicion that Miss Begum was a subject of trafficking and therefore there was an obligation to investigate whether she was a victim of trafficking from the UK and what they could do in terms of recovery.”
She added: “In this case we are saying there are missed opportunities by the school and the police.”
Javid ignored the “obvious importance” of Begum’s rescue, recovery and rehabilitation as a child trafficking victim, her lawyers said.
On Dec. 10, 2014, two months before she left for Syria, an assessment conducted by the Bethnal Green academy said Begum was “at risk of radicalization,” the court heard.
It was noted that “she was good friends” with Sharmeena Begum, who had gone to Syria after leaving school.
The police gave Shamima Begum and her friends a letter about Sharmeena Begum’s “disappearance” and asked them to deliver it to their parents.
Knights said: “The letters have not been delivered and it appears that at no point were the families ever told that Sharmeena had traveled to Syria or that there was any concern about the applicant and her friends.”