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Law to protect the young must cover madrassas as well

Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui
Commentary The Times
10 December 2008

Child protection legislation may as well not exist for Muslims who operate and teach at some of Britain's 1,600 or so madrassas, or Islamic schools. For such people, who either consciously flout the law or are completely ignorant of it, beating children is not a form of abuse but a method of enforcing discipline.

It may surprise many people to find that, unlike schools and other institutions dealing with children, madrassas are not subject to government regulation. The situation is compounded as even many mosque-run madrassas are not registered with anyone.

A recent survey by the Charity Commission found that 11per cent of mosques in London were unregistered. Travel north to the Midlands and that figure mushrooms to 70 per cent. But even the registration of mosques is limited in the type of protection that it offers children, because, while registration ensures random checks by the commission, it does not ensure the regulation of madrassas within the mosques.

Only two years ago my organisation, the Muslim Parliament, published a report to highlight the problem of child abuse in madrassas, including the mentality that holds such abuse as a taboo subject that is best kept quiet. We said then that too many members of the community seemed more interested in protecting it from embarrassment than in ensuring the wellbeing of innocent and voiceless children.

The report highlighted that up to 40 per cent of madrassas exclude uncooperative pupils, and its estimate of 15-20 cases a year of sexual abuse was considered an understatement. Those parents whose children are abused remain silent for fear of being ostracised by their community or stigmatised by mainstream Britain.

I recall a conversation with a former madrassa pupil who emphasised the importance of the schools in Muslim life. But when I asked him whether he would send his son to one, he answered without hesitation: “No.” Then he opened up about the physical abuse he was subjected to by madrassa teachers.

The Children Act 2004 places the responsibility for protecting and promoting the welfare of children on local safeguarding children boards that include local health authorities and the police. The Department for Children, Schools and Families lays down the guidelines for how such agencies should cooperate to protect children within the framework of Working Together to Safeguard Children.

Many local safeguarding children boards have begun to engage the faith and voluntary sector and have organised workshops and training courses in their respective areas. However, it seems that these activities have been attended by only a handful of mosque and madrassa organisations.

In the absence of a national register of mosques and madrassas, it is difficult to say what percentage of them have taken advantage of these provisions and have gone on to put in place child protection policy and procedures in their own madrassas. I am not sure how many madrassas have even done Criminal Record Bureau checks on staff who routinely deal with children.

Some charities and local authorities are taking the initiative. Kirklees Council has produced Safe Children Sound Learning - Guidance for Madressahs which has proved an excellent resource for propagating good practice. There is a need for such resources to be made widely available, backed by effective training programmes delivered by local safeguarding children boards.

Sadly for the 200,000 children in Britain who attend madrassas, however, the situation will not improve and may even get worse unless new laws are introduced to ensure that every madrassa is regulated by a government body. Such laws could force the closure of madrassas in breach of the Child Protection Act. Until then, children who attend madrassas, whether those connected to mosques or one of the many makeshift varieties operating from people's homes, will remain at significant risk of physical and sexual harm.

- Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui is head of the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain.

 

 

 

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