Some countries, namely Russia, have repatriated children and placed them with family or foster parents; but Britain, France and Belgium have been more reluctant. “These children are not jihadis,” Mr Satyarthi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014, told AFP in Paris. He said: “If we are not able to give them proper care and proper protection and love and respect and recognition as human beings, then there are more chances that they could be misused and manipulated. It is better to embrace them.”
Mr Satyarthi continued: “Maybe they are the children of jihadis or suicide bombers or terrorists. They are born into that family, but it is not their fault.”
Britain have been reluctant to bring home the minors but the death of Ms Begum’s newborn son, Jarrah, in a camp in north-eastern Syria last week has thrown a harsh spotlight on the treatment of ISIS children, and intensified calls for them to be sent home.
Ms Begum, whose first two children also died, was stripped of her British citizenship last month on security grounds after she was found in a detention camp in Syria. The 19-year-old left London to join ISIS when she was 15.
She tried to return to the UK with her third child, but was rebuked by Home Secretary Sajid Javid, who cancelled her passport in an effort to show the government’s unbending stance on those who joined the Islamists.
In an interview with the BBC before the death of Ms Begum’s baby was confirmed, Mr Javid said there were “probably many children, obviously perfectly innocent, who have been born in this war zone”.
He said: “I have nothing for sympathy for the children who have been dragged into this. This is a reminder of why it is so, so dangerous for anyone to be in this war zone.”
Kailash Satyarthi urged European governments to protect the children of citizens who joined ISIS
But Mr Javid is facing sharp criticism following the baby’s death. The newborn died of pneumonia, according to a medical certificate.
A Government spokesman said: “The death of any child is tragic and deeply distressing for the family.”
The spokesman stressed the Government had repeatedly advised against travelling to Syria, and would “continue to do whatever we can to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism and travelling to dangerous conflict zones”.
Ms Begum’s mother wrote to the Home Office via the family’s lawyer asking for the jihadi bride to return to the UK following the death of her son, it emerged on Friday.
“We write specifically on behalf of Mrs Begum, Shamima Begum’s mother, to ask you to reconsider your previous decision dated 19 February 2019 to deprive her daughter of her British citizenship,” the letter read.
“Mrs Begum requests this reconsideration, as an act of mercy, on the basis of the following new information, namely the death of her newborn son.”
Tasnime Akunjee, the Begum family lawyer, told Sky News: “Following the tragic and entirely avoidable death of Shamima Begum’s son, we have written to the home secretary requesting that he reconsider his original decision to strip Ms Begum of her British citizenship.”
Home Secretary Sajid Javid cancelled Shamima Begum’s passport
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, for his part, said Ms Begum knew the risks at stake when she fled to Syria.
The baby’s death is “an incredibly distressing and sad situation,” Mr Hunt told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, before insisting that it was too dangerous to send officials to the conflict zone to retrieve the baby.
“Shamima knew when she made the decision to join Daesh (ISIS) she was going to a country where there’s no embassy, where there’s no consular assistance. And I’m afraid those decisions … they do have consequences,” he said.
But Ms Begum’s fate has exposed the ethical, legal and security problems western governments face when dealing with the families of militants who swore allegiance to ISIS.
Scores of ISIS brides and children have been pouring out of Baghouz, the group’s last remaining stronghold in Syria, following a military onslaught by Kurdish-led forces.
Their departure has pushed the returnee problem to the forefront of national concern, as countries must decide whether to allow fighters and their wives to return home to face trial, and how to deal with the children.
The security threat returnees may pose is a source of mounting concern in France, which supplied the largest number of ISIS recruits.
While the French government has categorically refused to take back fighters and their wives, it has said it would take back their children on a case-by-case basis.
But a lawyer working for the families of French jihadists, Samia Maktouf, has accused the Paris government of leaving ISIS children to die in Syria.
“These minors have been abandoned and face a certain death,” Mrs Maktouf told AFP.
The rights lawyer represents the families of two orphaned ISIS children – a five-year-old girl and two-year-old boy – who are currently living in “rudimentary conditions” in a Syrian refugee camp.
The families have brought an action against the French state before the Paris Administrative Court to “force” the government to bring the children home.