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Warning on Muslim schools 'abuse'

By Dominic Casciani
BBC News community affairs
22 March 2006

Muslims could face a child abuse scandal on a par with the Catholic Church, a report has warned.

A group of Muslim leaders says the community is in denial about child abuse in religious schools, known as madrasas. The UK has about 700.

They want ministers to regulate the schools, saying 100,000 children do not have appropriate legal protection.

The government said recent changes on the vetting of those teaching children automatically included madrasas.

Most of the madrasas in the UK are attached to local mosques or Islamic institutions.

Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, co-author of the report and head of lobby group the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain, said that child abuse existed in all societies - and that it would be naïve of Muslim communities to think it did not affect them.

He said despite anecdotal reports of abuse, it was a taboo subject with little discussion within the community.

This, he said, meant victims had no-one to turn to.

"Sweeping the issue of child abuse in madrasas under the carpet is not a solution," said Dr Siddiqui.

"If nothing is done now we may face an avalanche of child sex-abuse scandals, decades afterwards, similar to those that rocked the Roman Catholic Church.

"To protect the integrity of these valued institutions, it is important that all madrasas put in place transparent and accountable polices and procedures."

Traditional schools

Madrasas are similar to Christian Sunday schools. Children of school age attend to learn the Koran and ethics of the faith.

While many madrasas are small community organisations associated with local mosques, the largest educate hundreds of pupils.

The schools play a central role in many Muslim communities - but Dr Siddiqui said very few had policies in place that meet the requirements of the Children Act 1989, a key law.

The report praised two councils which had taken steps on child protection in madrasas - Kirklees and Blackburn - but accused most of being reluctant to engage with the Muslim community.

Ann Cryer, MP for Keighley, said she commended the authors for speaking out and attacked local authorities for not acting.

"I have had reports of physical abuse in madrasas in my own constituency," said Mrs Cryer.

"Failing to protect the children in madrasas because of 'cultural sensitivities' is nonsense.

"Are we saying that British Asian children are not entitled to the protection of the law? It is racist to differentiate between children and to fail to offer that protection."

'Vetting and barring'

A spokesman for the Department for Education and Skills, which has responsibility for child safety, said that recent changes to improve child safety automatically included madrasas - and that the schools had to act within the same law as others.

"Under the new vetting and barring system, there will be requirements on employers to check all those who frequently teach, care for or supervise children - including all those in madrasas," said the spokesman.

"Employers should carry out criminal record checks on anyone working closely with children, including in madrasas. Any allegations of abuse should be immediately reported to the police."

Children's charity the NSPCC said it welcomed the report and called for robust research into incidents of child abuse within Muslim communities.

"We are concerned that madrasas are not required to follow the same child protection procedures as schools and other statutory bodies," said Diana Sutton of the charity.

"The government must require them and other faith groups to put safeguarding policies in place and ensure that these are rigorously enforced."





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