More than 150 children have been have involved in care proceedings in the UK since 2013 over concerns they were in danger of being radicalised, a report has said.
The study, by think tank the Henry Jackson Society, found the family courts were often powerless to take steps to protect the welfare of the youngsters, even when they were aware that the parents involved had extremist mindsets.
Urgent reform is needed in the face of a potential “wave” of women who joined Islamic State returning to the UK with their children, the report’s author warned.
It comes as the debate rages on over what should happen to Shamima Begum, the 19-year-old who fled east London in 2015 to join IS and now wants to return to Britain with her baby son.
Nikita Malik, director of the Centre on Radicalisation and Terrorism and the report’s author, said: “The UK faces a real and imminent prospect of a wave of women from Islamic State returning to the UK with babies and children in tow. They return to a family courts system that is not currently up to the task of handling the serious challenges of extremism.
“The Family Courts requires urgent reform to ensure that they are procedurally fit for this emergent risk.
“Failure to see such reform could mean the children of extremists remain in the hands of their potentially dangerous parents.”
My new report will be released at midnight tonight. It will focus on the family court cases of children at risk of extremism and terrorism in the United Kingdom. By doing so, it will examine what happens in the families of these children — the push factors — for the first time. pic.twitter.com/LIjT4GroFI
— Nikita Malik (@nixmalik) February 19, 2019
The study found a number of inconsistencies in the way children at risk of radicalisation were dealt with, as some were put under travel restrictions, some were made wards of court or put in the care of other family members, and in other cases charges against the family were dropped.
There was also “uncertainty” over the concepts of radicalisation and extremism themselves, it warned.
Twenty of the 156 cases before the courts between 2013 and 2018 were analysed in more detail, with 55% of cases having links to Al-Muhajiroun, the banned group founded by Anjem Choudary.
Three main causes were identified for pushing youngsters towards radicalisation, including being taken out of school, having a family with a history of extremist activity or coming from a broken home.
A total of 67% of families involved in the cases had a history of domestic abuse or a history of wider criminal conduct, almost 20% of the children involved were home-schooled, while 38% of families contained children absent from school.
The report also concluded that girls who travel to the so-called caliphate make their own decisions, more so than boys.
The boys tended to join Islamic State under the influence of their families, whereas girls were more active and independent in seeking out extremist material, it said.
“The cases in the report are unique, in that the threat to children is ideological as well as physical,” said Ms Malik.
“When courts act in these cases, they must settle upon a course of action which not only protects the child from harm, but protects them from becoming a person who does harm to themselves or others in the future.”
Lord Carlile, former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, said it was apparent that the family court was not always able to “take the appropriate steps to protect” children in such cases.
“The report stimulates a necessary and open discussion about how we tackle this, including what additional powers are needed to safeguard children whose lives may be ruined by the extremist ideas and intentions of parents and others close to the family,” he said.