Outcry after Shamima Begum’s baby dies in Syria

Outcast: Over a third of the world’s stateless people are children.

The UK has been accused of abandoning the teenager’s newborn son, who died on Thursday. Now, it has emerged that two more British ISIS brides have been stripped of their citizenship.

Shamima Begum, the teenager who fled the UK to join Islamic State (ISIS), gave birth to a boy named Jarrah in a Syrian refugee camp three weeks ago. On Thursday, her baby died.

Now, Home Secretary Sajid Javid has been branded a “moral coward” for his decision to strip Begum of her British citizenship. His critics say the baby was a UK citizen who deserved protection, and that the move violated international law.

Reports have since emerged that two more British ISIS brides, with five young sons between them, have had their citizenship revoked.

But what is citizenship and why is it so important?

In ancient Rome, the law stated that citizens were “free to act by law, free to ask and expect the law’s protection”.

In the Bible, when Saint Paul is arrested for spreading Christianity, his captors quake with fear when they realise they have mistreated a Roman citizen. Being a citizen means you are entitled to fundamental rights and protection in society.

Javid stripped Begum of her British citizenship under the British Nationality Act 1981, which allows the UK to remove someone’s nationality if it is “conducive to the public good”.

This only applies to dual citizens because it is against international law to make a person stateless. The Home Office says that Begum is entitled to Bangladeshi citizenship through her parents, but Bangladesh says it will not grant her it.

Someone is stateless when they have no nationality. Stateless individuals are often unable to access healthcare, education and work. The United Nations estimates that there are more than 10 million stateless people around the world.

Statelessness can be used to oppress certain groups in a population. For example, the Rohingya minority who live stateless in Myanmar are subject to violent attacks from authorities.

The ban on making people stateless emerged as a result of the Nuremberg Laws, when hundreds of thousands of German Jews were stripped of their nationality overnight in 1935.

Now, Begum finds herself effectively stateless. According to former lawyer Lord Macdonald, Javid’s decision threatens to create “a more dangerous world where stateless individuals roam with no allegiance”.

Law of the land

Was it right to revoke Begum’s citizenship? The UK government seems to be making it a policy to strip terrorists of their nationality. Should a country have the right to cast off those who work against its interests? Or has the state shirked responsibility?

Citizenship is supposed to be a universal right. Is it important that we always uphold citizenship as a principle? Or is it better to consider revoking it on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the knotty realities?

You Decide

  1. Was the government right to strip Begum of her citizenship?
  2. Do you feel any sympathy for Shamima Begum?


  1. What makes a good citizen? Write down three qualities.
  2. Put together a three-minute presentation about statelessness around the world. Include statistics and quotes.

Some People Say...

“Citizenship consists in the service of the country.”

Jawaharlal Nehru

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Shamima Begum left the UK when she was 15 to join the Islamic State terror group in Syria. She is married to a Dutch ISIS fighter, who she has had three children with. All of her children have died. Her son, Jarrah, who died on Thursday, was a British citizen. Yesterday, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said that it was too dangerous to send British officials to rescue Begum’s baby from the refugee camp.
What do we not know?
What will happen to Shamima Begum. She remains in a refugee camp in Syria, while her husband is currently being held in a Kurdish detention centre after being captured. He has said that he wants to live in the Netherlands with his wife.

Word Watch

The boy, named Jarrah, died of pneumonia. He was less than three weeks old. She also had two older children, a boy and a girl, who died during her years in ISIS.
ISIS brides
Zara and Reema Iqbal are sisters from Canning Town in east London. They are now aged 28 and 30.
Roman citizen
The Latin phrase “civis Romanus sum”, which means “I am a Roman citizen”, was said to guarantee a person safety when they were travelling across the empire.
An oppressed Muslim minority in Buddhist-majority Myanmar. In 2017, more than 600,000 of Myanmar’s one million Rohingya Muslims fled the country after security forces launched a crackdown which they said was against Rohingya terrorists. Many are still in refugee camps in neighbouring Bangladesh.
Nuremberg Laws
A set of anti-Semitic laws passed by Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime in the years preceding the Holocaust. Many countries were hesitant or opposed to taking Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis.


PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.