WHILE TT citizens who took their families to war-torn Syria and Iraq seek government’s help to return home, a criminologist is calling for the mothers, if ever they return, to be charged with trafficking their children.
Criminologist Dr Simon Cottee, in a keynote address at a recent international conference hosted by the University of the Southern Caribbean, said, “These women, along with their husbands, took their children to a war zone, and in effect, trafficked their sons and daughters into ISIS's machinery of war and sexual servitude. They should face justice for this grave dereliction of parental responsibility.”
The conference’s theme was: Prioritising Caribbean Security in the 21st Century: Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism & Terrorism.
Cottee lectures in criminology at the University of Kent, UK. He is currently writing a book on TT being the largest "exporter" per capita of ISIS fighters to Syria and Iraq. The police, army, Attorney General’s office and Vyana Sharma, who heads the Anti-Terrorism Unit, attended the conference.
Giving an overview of his research into TT nationals who joined ISIS between 2013 and 2016, Cottee said he is quite convinced that the total number is approximately 240.
“This includes men, women and children,” he added.
He said as of January 2018, 30 male TT ISIS fighters had been killed in Syria and Iraq. Only two women, one man, two boys and two teenage girls have returned, he added.
Chairman of the Children’s Authority Hanif Benjamin told Newsday yesterday that a proper investigation would have to be done to determine which parts of the world had been officially declared war zones at the time when the mothers left with their children.
He said, “From where I sit, one cannot think that an offence has or has not been committed. Did these parents knew they were going to a place where war had been declared? The proper research has to be done. So therefore I have no view.”
Cottee told the conference that, based on sources in TT and journalists in Syria, there are 60 TT minors in detention camps in Syria and Iraq. He added, however, that journalists believe that Concerned Muslims of T&T’s figure of 90 seems more plausible.
Citing the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which TT is a signatory, Cottee said the Government has the authority to investigate the mothers under human trafficking legislation.
Sayingthe moral case for repatriation of TT mothers and their children from Syria and Iraq is a strong one, Cottee explained, “This may sound like a high figure, but it should be recalled that just over 40 per cent of the 240 Trinis who went to Syria, were minors. They are innocents who didn’t choose to go to Syria to join a genocidal religious-political movement. This makes them victims, and the TT government thus has a duty to bring them home.
"But there is another moral case, however, which is equally strong and flows directly. This is the case for prosecuting the Trini women who took their children to Syria or Iraq. (I exempt the male adult parents from this, because they raise another set of issues, which I’ll discuss shortly.)”
Cottee said the mothers of the minors, on their return, will get off with a slap on the wrist.
In light of that, Cottee suggested TT invoke international human trafficking legislation to prosecute these mothers. The UNprotocol on human trafficking defines it as “the recruitment or receipt of persons…for the purpose of exploitation.”
Under the protocol, exploitation includes “sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery.”
In the case of child trafficking, he added, only the act of recruitment and intent to exploit are relevant. For a conviction, a court would need to satisfy the requirement that the mothers intended to enlist their children into ISIS. He said it was public record that ISIS was conscripting boys into combat as young as ten and girls into marriages (and sexual servitude) as young as nine.
Cottee contended that it could be said that some TT mothers were themselves coerced or trafficked by their husbands into going to Syria and Iraq.