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Call for national register of mosque schools

Alexandra Smith
The Guardian
Wednesday March 22, 2006

Britain's 700 unregulated madrasas need to be monitored nationally to stop children being exposed to significant physical and sexual abuse, a Muslim body has warned.
The Muslim parliament of Great Britain will today urge the government to set up a national register for the mosque schools, coordinated and monitored by local authorities, to meet their legal obligations under the Children Act 1989.

Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, the leader of the Muslim parliament, will launch a report highlighting the risks faced by 100,000 Muslim children studying in madrasas.

The report will warn of the widespread existence of physical and sexual child abuse in madrasas and follows revelations that as many as 40% of teachers in the schools hit or scold children and between 15 and 20 cases of sexual abuse occur each year.

Madrasas are after-school study groups attached to mosques that teach children about the Qur'an how to speak Arabic. They are not subjected to checks from the standards watchdog, Ofsted, and they are rarely regulated.

Dr Siddiqui, who co-authored the report into the dangers facing British children at mosque schools, said madrasas were "outside the law" and imams were often unaware of their obligations to protect children.

He warned that unless local authorities and police drafted guidelines to make the schools more accountable, the Muslim community could be facing sexual abuse scandals similar to those which plagued the Catholic Church in the 1990s.

"At the moment all these schools are outside the law; nobody actually knows what is happening. It's not good for these institutions; it's not good for the children," Dr Siddiqui told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

"What we want to do is some kind of arrangement where all are registered - there is a national register - the local authorities are aware what is happening in their area and overall some kind of process of advice, guidance, training and monitoring takes place.

"It is only by ensuring these things we can be sure our children are protected against harm."

Diana Sutton, the head of policy and public affairs at the children's protection charity NSPCC, said debate helping faith-based communities keep children safe was welcomed.

"We are concerned that madrasas are not required to follow the same child protection procedures as schools and other statutory bodies. The government must require them and other faith groups to put safeguarding policies in place and ensure that these are rigorously enforced.

"The NSPCC would like to see faith groups involved in the new Local Safeguarding Children Board arrangements in order to develop a broad-ranging, multi-agency approach.

"The report also highlights the urgent need for robust research which shows the extent of child abuse within the Muslim community. This will help inform which measures need to be taken. A national register of UK madrasas warrants careful consideration."

The Muslim parliament is a forum which debates, campaigns and lobbies on issues facing the Muslim community in Britain. It is a non-governmental organisation which operates through a number of committees, each with its own remit. Its main committees work to campaign against the Anti-terrorism Acts, forced marriages and the underachievement of Muslim children in state schools.





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