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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 March 2006, 12:27 GMT
Madrasas could follow Catholic lead
Christian churches in the UK have had to tackle child abuse
The Muslim Parliament lobby group is calling for Islamic madrasa schools in Britain to adopt comprehensive policies to stop child abuse.

The madrasas, typically attached to mosques, operate in much the same way as church Sunday schools, offering children instruction in the Koran during evening and weekend classes.

Muslim Parliament head Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui believes Britain's Muslim community could fall victim to the torrent of abuse allegations that have dogged the Catholic Church and other Christian churches in recent years.

The Catholic church in England and Wales tackled the paedophile scandals by commissioning a report from Lord Nolan, a law lord.

His report led to the foundation of the Catholic Office for the Protection of Children (COPCA), a body led by a non-Catholic, to monitor allegations of abuse within the Church.

A database of candidates for priesthood was set up, with all to have full criminal records checks, a key part of government policy on child protection.

Cardinal furore

Every parish also has a child protection representative, with a co-ordinator operating at diocese level and acting as a point of contact with the police and social services to pass on allegations.

The head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, was himself engulfed in a scandal after his appointment in 2000 when it emerged he had years earlier allowed a known paedophile to stay within the Church.

Now the Church is adamant it has achieved full transparency, with COPCA's last report in 2004 detailing 52 allegations of sexual abuse and 10 of physical or emotional abuse passed on to police.

Do we want to wait for victims to knock at the door?
Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui

Dr Siddiqui believes it is vital the Muslim community, that like any other community, recognises that abuse happens within its ranks and adopts similar measures.

"The Muslim community is in a state of denial, not only denying that abuse exists, but they also feel there is absolutely no need to have guidelines in place.

"They think this is an unnecessary form of bureaucracy and additional work they can do without.

"There have been some cases [of abuse]. Not a lot, but we are saying do we want to wait that long for victims to knock at the door.

"It is the right of children to be safe from harm."

The Department for Education and Skills insists madrasas are covered by recent regulations setting out the need for criminal record checks on those who work with children.

Mosques vary

But Dr Siddiqui is anxious that "cultural sensitivities" are not allowed to interfere with enforcement of the law, and wants a national register of madrasas to ensure compliance.

Dr Yunes Teinaz, of London's Regents Park Mosque, said a child protection policy had been in place there for some time.

Dr Teinaz, who co-ordinates Criminal Records Bureau checks, said the mosque had campaigned to get policies at all British mosques to protect children and young people. The mosque co-ordinated checks on behalf of other groups, he said.

The Muslim community is in a very different position to the Catholic community, with no single over-arching body, meaning structures to protect children can vary from mosque to mosque.

One mosque contacted by the BBC News website, Glasgow Central Mosque, seemed unsure about its child protection policy.

There is something wrong in the psyche of communities where they prefer to stand up and protect the imam rather than the abused child
Anne Cryer MP

A spokesman said "all sorts of checks" were done on staff and volunteers, but seemed to indicate this did not include comprehensive Criminal Records Bureau searches as teachers tended to be well-known to mosque officials.

But another group contacted, the Jamiyat Tabligh-ul-Islam, which administers 16 mosques in Bradford, said it did have a clear policy.

Trustee Khadin Hussain said police checks were done on all staff and volunteers working with children, following communication from the Home Office five years ago.

Mr Hussain said new recruits were given some training in child protection.

Anecdotal evidence

It is understood that mosques in Blackburn, Kirklees, and Ilford are among those with the most advanced child protection policies.

Dr Siddiqui said on an anecdotal basis there was evidence that abuse did go on in madrasas in the UK, but it is impossible to gauge the scale of any problems.

Anne Cryer, MP for Keighley, said she had received a number of complaints in recent years from state schools about allegations of abuse in madrasas.

Some mosques do have policies in place

She said a family whose allegations had led to the conviction of an imam in Bradford had been shunned by their community.

"There is something wrong in the psyche of communities where they prefer to stand up and protect the imam rather than the abused child."

Ms Cryer said a direct parallel could be drawn between the Muslim community and the Catholic community.

"It was a very closed community who loved their priests and dared not report abuse. Many of the mums and dads in the Catholic community were aware of what was going on but loyalty to the community and loyalty to the Church stopped them."

Dr Siddiqui is clear. The Muslim community must acknowledge that it faces the same problems as every other community, and make sure its children are protected.


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