The Association of Child Protection Professionals is concerned to hear of recent reports that Shamima Begum was allegedly trafficked. Shamima was 15 years old and legally a child when she left the UK and joined ISIS in Syria following her radicalisation. She was subsequently sexually abused and experienced the loss of three of her children. Shamima’s case raises important issues about child exploitation, grooming, radicalisation, trafficking and the adultification of black and minority ethnic children.
The AoCPP believes that children who have been radicalised should be understood as victims of exploitation and that there is a need for consistency in the understanding, assessment and treatment of child exploitation victims. The process of grooming and coercion in radicalisation is similar to other forms of child exploitation and perpetrators prey on vulnerable children.
Our understanding of sexual exploitation has moved away from victim blaming, but it is still the case that too often child victims of criminal exploitation and radicalisation are viewed as being more culpable for their behaviour. The adultification of black and minority ethnic children, where unlike white children they are treated as having adult understanding and intentions, is a further concern raised by the narrative surrounding Shamima.
The AoCPP believes that there is a need for children be treated as children regardless of their beliefs, experiences, behaviours or ethnicity. Children who have been the victims of radicalisation are no less victims of exploitation than those who have been criminally or sexually exploited through similar coercive grooming processes. We believe that a child-centred, social welfare approach may be a more helpful response when children are exploited in this way.