Archive for the ‘children’ Category

Paedophiles exist in every community

Monday, September 16th, 2013

Published on Open Democracy here on 16th September 2013

Racial stereotyping puts children at risk. The greatest threat to children of any culture, race or faith is familial child sex abuse.

I am the Chair of Muslim Women’s Network UK, which is the only national Muslim women’s organisation in Britain. We have a membership of 500 with a collective reach of tens of thousands of women across the UK.  Through our network, we gather and share information relevant to the lives of Muslim women and girls.  While media and public attention focused on White British female victims of sexual abuse, our members raised concerns that Asian and Muslim girls were also being sexually abused — within the family and by other men unconnected to the family including groups of men. They felt no one was talking about them because there was an assumption that Muslim girls are safe from sexual abuse because they are confined to the home with little or no interaction with men.  We decided to investigate the matter and managed to collect 35 case studies over 5 months. Most were collected from either Black Ethnic Minority third sector organisations or from friends and relatives of victims.

Last week Muslim Women’s Network UK launched Unheard Voices: Sexual Exploitation of Asian Girls and Young Women. Our report challenges the stereotype that Asian offenders target White girls only. The majority of the victims in our study were of Pakistani Muslim background. They were tortured, raped and trafficked by men from their own communities. I wonder what the EDL, BNP and the Sikh Awareness Society will say now? They have all been very confidently claiming that Pakistani Muslim men are deliberately targeting White girls and Sikh girls because they are of a different ethnicity and faith.

Our research reinforces the evidence that girls and women are most at risk of being sexually exploited by men from their own backgrounds. We already know that the majority of victims and offenders are White.  In the study, the vast majority of perpetrators were men of the same ethnicity and faith as the victims. Two thirds of the victims were of Pakistani background and in most of these cases the offenders were also Pakistani. When victims were Bangladeshi, the offenders tended to also be Bangladeshi. Other offenders included Afghani, Indian (Sikh and Hindu) and White men (including mixed heritage). In the few exceptions where the sub ethnic group varied, there was a shared heritage between victim and offender such as being ‘Asian’ or having the same faith. Paedophiles are therefore not only targeting the most vulnerable but also the most accessible girls.

If an investigation were conducted of the sexual exploitation of girls from different backgrounds e.g. Black Afro Caribbean, Chinese, Eastern European etc., most perpetrators are therefore likely to be from their own backgrounds. However, there is a tendency to talk about one type of offender / victim model, that of Pakistani men grooming White girls. Those who portray sexual exploitation as a ‘Pakistani only’ problem can only be interested in furthering their own agendas. They don’t really care about the sexual abuse of girls.  If they did, then they would criticize all offenders with equal vigor regardless of background.  If they really cared they would speak out against all forms of sexual abuse whether carried out by individuals, online, within families, in religious institutions or by groups – not just focus on sexual exploitation by gangs and groups by one ethnic group.

Claiming the moral high ground is not only unhelpful but also dangerous: it is resulting in both victims and offenders being missed.  Some sections of the media, some politicians and right wing groups such as the EDL and BNP portray sexual exploitation as an ‘Asian or Muslim only’ problem. Meanwhile the Indian Sikh and Hindu communities challenge the Asian label and claim it’s a Muslim problem.

There are divisions within the Muslim communities too. Some Bangladeshis will tell you, it’s not all Muslims – it’s the Pakistani Muslims. For example, Bangladeshi imam, Ajmal Masroor wrote an article about Pakistani grooming gangs, Sex Grooming – Who Is Responsible for It? It was clear from his piece that he did not think Bangladeshi men were involved in group exploitation and at worst held only negative views about girls.

The Unheard Voices report highlights case studies involving Bangladeshi victims who were sexually abused and passed around by Bangladeshi men.  The report also highlights the story of an 11-year-old White girl passed around and raped by Bangladeshi men (which is not included in the 35 case studies but mentioned in the body of the report). During the research, we were told about many other cases involving Bangladeshi victims and male offenders — we did not have the capacity to collect all the stories.

Many in Sikh communities believe that Pakistanis pose the biggest threat to the safety of Sikh girls.  According to them ‘grooming Sikh gangs do not exist because no such cases have been highlighted.’ I am not doubting their claim that some Pakistanis are targeting Sikh girls, I know they are.  But to claim that Sikhs do not sexually abuse girls is absurd.  I wonder if anyone is bothering to look for them? Probably not — it would undermine the popularized stereotype that Sikh girls are only being sexually exploited by Muslim men.  Since the launch of the report one Indian girl said: “I remember Sikh men passing girls around 20 years ago but no one wants to talk about them.”

It is all very well trying to protect Sikh girls from Pakistani men but who is protecting them from men in their own communities? There is an obsession with group sexual exploitation and a blindness to other forms of sexual abuse. It is a well-known fact that most sexual assaults are by offenders known to the victim.  The greatest threat to children (girls and boys) of any culture, race or faith is familial child sex abuse. It is therefore very worrying that some people are only concerned about paedophiles from outside of their backgrounds.  This sends the message that sexual abuse by one of your ‘own’ is considered a lesser crime and viewed as more acceptable.  Such attitudes will allow men to continue operating with impunity further fueling sexual violence against girls and women.

The reason often given for focusing on Pakistani men has been that they are over-represented in the group exploitation networks in cases that have come to light. This may well be true judging from the many arrests over recent months and those already prosecuted.  However, is this because of a unique factor related to their background? Or because police are now looking out for them due to the media attention they have received? Either way, this should not absolve any community from the responsibility of addressing the involvement of their own. We all have a responsibility to address sexual exploitation. That is why as a British Pakistani, I have not been afraid to ‘wash our dirty laundry’ in public.  I carried out the research knowing that our greater reach into Pakistani communities would mean uncovering more case studies involving Pakistani victims and offenders putting them back in the spotlight.  It is time everyone prioritised the safeguarding of children over the so-called reputation or honour of one’s community and carried out similar investigations.

Age No Bar for Action!

Sunday, May 20th, 2012

My daughter Aaliyah Gohir gets her first article published in Eastern Eye – 18 May 2012.  She interviewed the following activists from around the world:

  • Fawzia Koofi (MP from Afghanistan)
  • Zainah Anwar (Director of Musawah, a global Muslim women’s movement – Malaysia
  • Lydia Alpizar Duran (Executive Director of AWID – Mexico)
  • Anna Pelagie (activist – Cameroon)
  • Ester Jarome and Mwandiwe Kali – (farmers from Tanzania)
  • Zoe Blumenfield (Communocation Officer from Global Fund for Women – US)
  • Nannyondo Sarah (student activist – Uganda)
  • Dr Tahmineh Danioli (activist – Iran)

And she interviewed me too! I am so proud of her!

Parents becoming complicit in the sexualisation of children

Monday, September 5th, 2011

Published on Huffington Post (UK) here

Last week, four-year-old Maddy Jackson appeared on the US reality show ‘Toddlers and Tiaras’ wearing a padded bra. Her mother also gave her a padded bottom and made her don a peroxide wig in an attempt to make her look like Dolly Parton. I am disgusted by this mother – the lengths that some people go to for a few minutes of fame has really hit an all time low. Where is Maddy’s father – why is he not stopping this?

I am disturbed by some mothers in Britain too – the one who gives her 4 year old a spray tan, the one who teaches her 7 year old pole dancing and the one who injects her 8 year old with botox. And these are the cases that we know about through media. I wonder how many more parents are encouraging their little girls to grow up too quickly. Television, magazines, music and clothing are already sexualising children, so when mothers start joining in, then things have just gone too far!

At the other end of the spectrum, I am also troubled by a minority of conservative Muslim parents who are making girls as young as three, four and five wear hijabs (headscarves) despite it not being a religious obligation for them. It may be unintentional, but they are also sexualizing their children because the purpose of the hijab is to prevent unwanted male sexual attention. By wrapping little girls in headscarves they are being treated as sex objects, who apparently need to be covered up. A healthy balance can be struck on children’s appearance without going to such extremes.

Many of us would be critical of the parents mentioned so far. But how many of us are also sending the wrong messages to our children through inappropriate choices that we are making unconsciously. I blame the mothers because women are making majority of the purchasing decisions. They are buying high-heeled shoes, provocative underwear and sexy clothing. Kids wear adorned with slogans that are sexist or have sexual innuendoes are also regularly being bought. Here are some examples of the types of slogans that have appeared on girl tops: “Future WAG”, “Future Porn Star”, “So Many Boys, So Little Time.” Babies have not been spared from sleaze either and wording has included, “I love boobies” and “Mother Sucker.” A couple of years ago there was outrage in New Zealand when babywear featured, “I’m Living Proof My Mum is Easy”, and “The Condom Broke.” I know sex sells, but this is ridiculous!

Last week, another T-shirt caused controversy for being sexist. It was covered with, “I’m too pretty to do my homework so my brother has to do it for me.” JC Penney, a national retailer in the US, discontinued the ‘Too pretty’ T-shirt within 24 hours of a petition going viral on social media. However, another T-shirt is still being sold in their stores, which says, “My best subjects are boys, shopping, music and dancing.” When I asked my 9-year-old daughter about her views on these, she said, “boys have superheroes on their clothes who are strong and powerful, why can’t girls be told they have girl power.” She has written a blog titled ‘Pretty Clever’ on the topic. I wanted a male perspective too so I asked my 10-year-old son for his opinion and his response was interesting. He said: “the slogans are unfair on both girls and boys because girls are being told they are dumb and they won’t learn anything while boys have to do double work!”

Some people will view these slogans as harmless humour – but sleazy and demeaning messages are no joke. Not only do they undermine women’s fight for respect and equality, the accumulative effect is damaging. Girls are being prevented from reaching their full potential because they are being conditioned into believing they are not clever and to focus on appearance, boys, and sex. Why are parents buying into these stereotypes? If we don’t stop now, the obsession with looks will lead to problems later such as body image dissatisfaction, wanting plastic surgery, eating disorders, low self esteem and depression. If kids are looking and behaving like mini adults, then they are also more likely to engage in sexual behaviour at an earlier age. It’s no wonder that the US has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in the developed world and the UK has the highest rate in Western Europe.

Now that the government is clamping down on retailers, magazines and broadcasters, we should see less sexualized products and imagery. This will mean less pressure by children on parents. However, recommendations in the Bailey Report on the ‘Commercialisation and Sexualisation of Childhood’ are only being enforced through voluntary regulations and not legislation. Major British retailers may have signed up to comply but they will always try and constantly push the boundaries.

The only beneficiaries to the sexulisation of children are the corporations and of course pedophiles – after all, sexualisation, whether through adverts, music or products, is a form of grooming. Parents have been helping the very companies that are profiting from the exploitation of their children by buying from them. If we continue then we will be complicit in the sexualisation of our own children. Let’s stop right now and not rob them of their childhood.

Safeguarding of Muslim children must be improved

Friday, February 18th, 2011

Channel 4’s Dispatches programme shown on 14th February 2011, ‘Lessons in Hatred and Violence,’ showing children suffering physical punishment at the hands of madressa teachers did not surprise me. It reminded me of why I send my children to a little old lady at her home to learn the Quran.

A leading Muslim intellectual, Dr Ghayussudin Siddiqui, published a report in 2006 that highlighted the levels of abuse taking place. Although increasing numbers of mosques and madressas have adopted child protection procedures since then, the incidents in the programme show that so much more needs to be done to safeguard Muslim children. The standards vary considerably across the country from those who are doing an excellent job in protecting the children in their care to those who don’t have any procedures at all or have them in place but don’t put them into practice.

Examples of both physical and sexual abuse continue to surface. Recently an imam in Stoke on Trent was found guilty of sexually assaulting two boys. Muslim communities are not holding religious teachers and institutions to account. They are held in such high esteem – making it difficult for those who do want to speak out against them. Muslim parents would not tolerate abuse in state schools, so why accept lower standards of behaviour from religious institutions? I have heard of situations when abuse has come to light, parents have simply removed their child or the teacher has been allowed to move on.

Corporal punishment may be a common teaching method employed in other parts of the world and parents themselves may have grown up here experiencing physical chastisement in mosques but continuing to accept violence as part and parcel of how these institutions operate, must stop – children have rights too too in Islam which certainly does not allow child abuse. All corporal punishments were outlawed in state schools 25 years ago and in private schools over ten years ago. It is about time the law is extended to protect children attending faith schools too. When the Labour Party was in power they refused to close the loophole in the legislation despite a number of MPs campaigning for the change. It seems that Muslim votes were more important than the safety of Muslim children. I hope the Coalition government acts swiftly to amend the law to prevent smackingin faith based educational settings.

I welcome the NSPCC’s timely national conference to be held on 17th March aimed at improving the safeguarding of Muslim children. The conference is the first of its kind and has been planned with input from a number of Muslim organisations including the Muslim Women’s Network UK. This could act as a catalyst for more voluntary, community and statutory organisations to work together to promote the welfare of children.

The Dispatches programme also showed footage of a preacher at Darul Uloom School in Birmingham promoting religious intolerance and encouraging sectarianism. The school claims they had no knowledge that offensive remarks had been made and as soon as they were aware, action was taken. However, it is worrying that hate preachers, who are often charismatic speakers, are gaining access to young impressionable minds which may not always be through faith schools or mosques. I am concerned as there is small but growing band of youth who are intolerant towards people of other faiths and other Muslims who are regarded as too liberal. Anti-female rhetoric is on the rise too and advancements that have been made on women’s rights are also being undermined.

Although the programme was well intentioned, the likelihood is that Islamophobes will use it as a tool to stereotype all Muslims as intolerant and violent while Muslim communities will go on the defensive and see this as another attempt to slander them. In the debate and discussion, Muslim children will be forgotten once again, with no one focusing on how best to protect them from both violence and extremist preachers.

The hypocrisy of child abuse in many Muslim countries

Saturday, April 24th, 2010

Published in Guardian (Comment is Free) here

Child marriage and pederasty are tolerated in Muslim societies where homosexuality is strictly condemned.

Some Muslims are fond of condemning western morality – alcoholism, nudity, premarital sex and homosexuality often being cited as examples. But Muslims do not have a monopoly on morality. In the west, child marriages and sex with children are illegal. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for many Muslim countries.

I recently saw the documentary on the Dancing Boys of Afghanistan. It exposed an ancient custom called “bacha bazi” (boy for play), where rich men buy boys as young as 11 from impoverished families for sexual slavery. The boys are dressed in women’s clothes and made to dance and sing at parties, before being carted away by the men for sex. Owning boys is considered a symbol of status and one former warlord boasted of having up to 3,000 boys over a 20-year period, even though he was married, with two sons. The involvement of the police and inaction of the government means this form of child prostitution is widespread.

The moral hypocrisy is outrageous in a country where homosexuality is not only strictly forbidden but savagely punished, even between two consenting adults. However, men who sodomise young boys are not considered homosexuals or paedophiles. The love of young boys is not a phenomenon restricted to Afghanistan; homosexual pederasty is common in neighbouring Pakistan, too. In my view, repression of sexuality and extreme gender apartheid is to blame.

And in the Middle East, it’s young girls who are considered desirable and men are able to satisfy their lusts legally through child marriages. In Yemen, more than a quarter of girls are married before the age of 15. Cases of girls dying during childbirth are not unusual, and recently, one 12-year-old child bride even died from internal bleeding following sexual intercourse. In another case, a 12-year-old girl was married to an 80-year-old man in Saudi Arabia.

So why is the practice of child marriage sanctioned in Muslim countries? Unfortunately, ultra-conservative religious authorities justify this old tribal custom by citing the prophet Muhammad’s marriage to Aisha. They allege Aisha was nine years old when the prophet married her. But they focus conveniently on selected Islamic texts to support their opinions, while ignoring vast number of other texts and historical information, which suggests Aisha was much older, putting her age of marriage at 19. Child marriage is against Islam as the Qur’an is clear that intellectual maturity is the basis for deciding age of marriage, and not puberty, as suggested by these clerics.

Whatever one’s view on the prophet’s marriage, no faith can claim moral superiority since child marriages have been practised in various cultures and societies across the world at one time or another. In modern times, though, marrying children is no longer acceptable and no excuse should be used to justify this.

I find the false adherence to Islamic principles and the “holier than thou” attitude of some Muslim societies similar to the blatant hypocrisy and double standards of 19th-century Victorian Britain, where the outward appearance of dignity and prudishness camouflaged an extreme prevalence of sexual and moral depravity behind closed doors. In those days, too, there were many men willing to pay to have sex with children – until a plethora of social movements arose that resulted in changes in laws and attitudes in society.

A similar shift in social attitudes is also required in traditional Muslim societies. Having boy sex slaves or child brides should not be seen as badges of honour. Instead, Muslims need to do more to attach shame to such practices; otherwise, acceptance of this behaviour will make them complicit in the sexual exploitation of children. I fail to understand why Muslims are so vocal on abuses by the west in Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo, Iraq and Afghanistan, but display moral blindness when it comes to children? It’s about time this silence was broken, so these violations of innocence can be stopped.

A too-passive attitude in dealing with child abuse has rubbed off on Muslim communities in Britain, too. I have heard many stories at first hand of child sexual abuse and rape, which show that the issue is not being addressed at all. Those who have had the courage to speak out have been met with reactions of denial and shame. Such attitudes mean that children will continue to suffer in silence. Sexual abuse of children happens in all communities, as has been revealed by the recent Catholic church scandal. At least, they have finally started to take action. Muslim communities should learn from this and also start being more open, instead of continuing to sweeping the issue under the carpet.

I am finding that more and more Muslims feel it is their duty to criticise others for actions they consider sinful – quoting the following popular saying of Muhammad to justify their interference:

“If you see something wrong, you should correct it with your hand and if you are unable to, then speak out against it and if you cannot do that, then feel that it is wrong in your heart.”

I wonder how, then, Muslims can remain silent when it comes to the sexual abuse of children?