Muslim leaders fear thousands of children are abused at madrassas

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The Independent Online

Thousands of Muslim schoolchildren are being physically and sexually abused by their religious teachers every year, according to a report into the Islamic education system in this country.

The potential scale of the abuse has led to fears among Muslim leaders that Britain's Mosque-based schools will face the kind of child abuse claims that has recently scandalised the Roman Catholic Church.

Up to 100,000 children are taught at 700 Islamic schools, or madrassas, of which almost a half use unlawful corporal punishment to discipline pupils, says the report into child protection published today by the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain. The authors also warn that each year at least a dozen children are sexually abused by their teachers and Imans with very few cases ever being made public.

Years of unregulated education means that tens of thousands of Muslim pupils now face a significant risk of harm by attending school, says the report.

"Because of the fear of child abuse some parents prefer home tuition instead, a practice said to be flourishing," it adds.

Today, the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain will urge the Government to establish a national registration scheme for madrassas, co-ordinated centrally and monitored by local authorities, to meet their legal obligations under The Children Act 1989.

Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, leader of the Muslim Parliament, will say: "Sweeping the issue of child abuse in UK madrassas under the carpet is not a solution. If nothing is done now we may face an avalanche of child sex-abuse scandals, decades afterwards, similar to those that had rocked the Roman Catholic Church in the 1990s. To protect the integrity of these valued institutions it is important that all madrassas put in place transparent and accountable policies and procedures for all."

Anne Cryer MP for Keighley praises the Muslim Parliament for taking stand against child abuse in the Muslim community.

"This is a very important report. I warmly welcome it and would like to commend the Muslim Parliament for its bravery for having the courage to tackle this issue. I have had reports of physical abuse in madrassas in my own constituency. It is a child protection and criminal matter. It must stop. Madrassas are no different to any other organisation that works with children - Criminal Record Bureau checks and child protection procedures must be in place."

The report makes it clear that the discussion of sexual abuse in madrassas is suppressed. "Hence when such a crime is committed, the victim knows no one to turn to and the abusers are answerable to no one. This protects the abuser and ostracises the victim."

Ms Cryer added: "Failing to protect the children in madrassas because of "cultural sensitivities" is nonsense. Are we saying that British Asian children are not entitled to the protection of the law?"

She concluded: "It is racist to differentiate between children and to fail to offer that protection."