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UK mosque schools put children at "risk of harm"

Written by: Staff

LONDON, Mar 22 (Reuters) Muslim children attending Britain's 700 mosque schools, or madrasas, are exposed to ''significant risk of harm'' because few obey legally-required child protection measures, a report said today.

''Sweeping the issue of child abuse in UK Madrasas under the carpet is not a solution,'' said Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, leader of the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain.

''If nothing is done now we may face an avalanche of child sex-abuse scandals, decades afterwards, similar to those that rocked the Roman Catholic Church in the 1990s.'' The madrasas teach basic Islam to around 100,000 Muslim children in Britain in after-school classes, with some of the mosque schools having attendances of over 500.

But only a handful of local authorities have insisted the mosque schools meet their child protection obligations under the Children Act 1989.

''The Muslim community is at present in a state of denial -- denial of the fact that child abuse takes place in places of worship including in mosques, madrasas and families,'' Siddiqui wrote in the report's introduction.

''If madrasas are left on their own, it is likely that due to poor understanding of child protection law and practice, a large number of Muslim children will remain exposed to significant risk of harm,'' Siddiqi wrote.

He said anecdotal evidence suggested around two-fifths of madrasas teachers hit or scolded their pupils, and that reports of 15-20 cases of sex abuse a year understated the true level.

''It would have been surprising if there were no cases of child abuse as Muslims societies are after all like any other human society,'' said Siddiqui.

The report, ''Child Protection in Faith-Based Environments'', calls for the government to establish a national registration scheme for madrasas to ensure they follow child protection measures.

''Madrassas are no different to any other organisation that works with children - Criminal Records Bureau checks and child protection procedures must be in place,'' said Labour MP Anne Cryer, who will speak at a London conference today to launch the report.

She said she had had reports of physical abuse in madrasas in her own West Yorkshire constituency of Keighley.

''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?'' The Department for Education and Skills said the government's new child protection laws would require employers to check ''all those who frequently teach, care for, or supervise children, including those in Madrasas.'' REUTERS PR PM1336

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