Self-regulation of madrassas would be a disaster for children

On Tuesday, 18 October 2011, Radio 4’s File on 4 broadcast an investigation into the physical and sexual abuse of children in madrassas (mosque schools), gathered from around 200 local authorities in England, Scotland and Wales. In the past three years, there were 421 reports of physical and sexual abuse, but only 10 went to court, and of these only two apparently led to convictions. These numbers include thirty reports, four referrals to court and one conviction relating to sexual abuse. The conviction led to a sixteen year sentence for the local imam.

“We fear self-regulation of these madrassas would be the same disaster for children that it was, and to an extent continues to be, for the Catholic Church."

Keith Porteous wood, Executive Director, National Secular Society.

Similar concerns were raised in a Channel 4 documentary Channel 4’s Dispatches: Lessons in Hate and Violence on Islamic Schools in Britain first screened on 14 February.

Concerning though these figures are, a senior prosecutor told the BBC the figures were likely to represent only the tip of an iceberg. This is borne out by a recurring theme of the programme: the suppression of complaints whether by direct threats or a culture of protecting the mosque at all costs and not “washing dirty linen in public”.

The reports show a strongly rising trend, perhaps unsurprising given the rapid growth in the number of Muslim children. This is demonstrated by the proportion of the 2.5 million Muslim population under 25 being 50%, compared with it being around 30% under 25 for the population as a whole.

Mohammad Shahid Raza, chairman of the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board, of course denounced the abuse, but was totally unconvincing about any commitment to eradicate it. Like the Catholic Church, he wanted self-regulation, justifying this, in part, on the grounds that the alternative — greater external regulation and inspections — was not “comfortable”.

Keith Porteous wood, Executive Director of the National Secular Society said: “We fear self-regulation of these madrassas would be the same disaster for children that it was, and to an extent continues to be, for the Catholic Church. We are also very disturbed that the Children‘s Minister, Tim Loughton, declined even to give a comment to File on 4. We hope the reason for this refusal was not the same willingness to allow Muslim religious officials to break the law with impunity —such as on speech inciting violence — as was the shameful legacy of the previous government.

It is obvious from the culture of these madrassas, often run by imams brought in from other countries, and the reluctance to report abuse, that children are in far greater danger in these madrassas than in normal schools. Arguably, therefore, there should be more rigorous regulation for madrassas than for normal schools. We have therefore written to the Minister to resist pressure for self-regulation and called on him to at least extend the law and inspection regimes that apply to schools to these madrassas. Particular attention ought also to be paid to ensure proper registration and that either the local authorities or law enforcement agencies ensure that all those involved with these establishments in any capacity have had appropriate CRB clearance. Particular emphasis should be placed on excluding anyone with a history of child abuse.”

Listen again: File on 4 – Are children at risk of abuse in Britain‘s unregulated madrassa schools?

See also: Channel 4’s Dispatches: Lessons in Hate and Violence