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Child abuse in mosques: Lifting the veil of secrecy

INVESTIGATION A new charity is aiming to confront the �hush-up� culture on abuse among black and ethnic minorities. By Neil Mackay

ALI Khan was sitting at a meeting in a Glasgow mosque, discussing a paedophile assault in a house of God, when he realised he had to take matters into his own hands.

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A Koranic teacher had been accused of sexually assaulting a young girl under his charge, and Khan, a 47-year-old property tycoon, was sitting alongside a handful of other senior Muslim figures in the community discussing what should or should not be done with the man.

"Horror of horrors," says Khan over the telephone from his office in Dubai, "what was suggested was that the alleged abuser should be allowed to remain in the mosque."

The alleged paedophile saved the mosque from compromising itself by disappearing. "How do we know where he is now?" asks Khan, still distressed about the event. "The police were never involved. It was another one of those hushed-up things."

Proof of this "hushing up" of the alleged abuse of children from ethnic backgrounds was what prompted Khan to set up Roshni, a new charity based in Glasgow. The word Roshni means light in Urdu, and the charity has as its motto the phrase No More Secrets.

From tomorrow, Roshni will campaign for the UK's black and ethnic minorities to confront crimes against children which are being swept under the carpet by shame, fear and silence.

Khan believes many people from Britain's ethnic communities wrongly see organisations such as the police, the health service and social work as "white" and therefore fail to report offences against children. Likewise, charities like Children First and Kidscape are seen, once again wrongly, as existing for white children.

To compound Khan's belief that ethnic communities needed a wake-up call on child protection issues, a child abuse scandal broke at Glasgow's central mosque. Taher Din was jailed for a year after sexually molesting two young boys at the iconic building near the Clyde.

Din, a member of the mosque's management committee, had a previous conviction for indecent assault. The boys he assaulted were just nine and 10. The first sex attack took place during Ramadan, while leading members of the city's Asian community worshipped nearby.

During the trial, there were suggestions that officials from the mosque may have tried to cover up the attacks. The first victim told prosecutors that when Din dragged him into a toilet, another mosque official walked in. Din left the scene and the boy told his father what had happened. The father could not bring himself to believe the allegation.

The police were not informed, and eight months later a worshipper at the mosque caught Din abusing a second child. Din had lured the boy to a changing room under the pretence that they were going to play football.

A doctor, Mohammed Farooq, heard the boy shouting out and went to investigate. He reported the incident to a member of staff at the mosque, who told him not to phone the police. Farooq was told: "We know the guy, we will sort it out." The child's mother, however, alerted the authorities herself.

Tomorrow, Roshni will kick off its first big campaign, calling on every mosque, madrasah and ethnic youth group in Scotland to make sure all their staff are fully cleared by Disclosure Scotland against the sex offenders register and given state approval to work with children. Failure to "disclosure" staff is a breach of the Protection of Children Act. Many smaller organisations don't even know what Disclosure Scotland is, Khan claims.

"I have done quite well in life and I want to give something back," says Khan. "My first goal is simply to raise awareness among adults in the black and ethnic minority community about child abuse, and I also want children to learn what is appropriate - what is right and wrong behaviour for an adult."

Roshni is also going to try to change cultural attitudes that make dealing with abuse difficult for ethnic minority families. The issues of shame and honour, says Khan, mean "children and adults find it very hard to report offences outside the community - that is borne out by the example of the mosque trying to hush up what happened".

"We come from countries with a very strong family-based culture," Khan went on, "that makes it hard for some people to report. Denouncing one family member is like denouncing the whole family. We need to change this mindset. My personal view is that I think some people believe they will be bringing shame on others if they speak out."

He spoke of people being "spurned and threatened" for daring to speak out about crimes against children.

"Our own research," Khan said, "has shown a tendency not to report abuse within religious establishments, particularly where this involves religious leaders, as a result of the shame that this can bring upon a community."

The Disclosure Initiative is the first of many steps towards ensuring all Scotland's children are equally protected. Khan describes the work as a "critical partnership" with faith leaders and "a historic turning point in child protection within Scotland's faith communities".

"From Monday, we will be approaching all places of worship, schools of worship, religious organisations and private houses where teaching takes place and ensuring that anyone working with children has been cleared by Disclosure Scotland," Khan said.

"We will visit every mosque and temple in Scotland to make sure that they adapt to 21st-century standards of child protection. We feel many religious organisations are unaware of their responsibilities under statute. We think a lot of smaller organisations have never heard of Disclosure Scotland. We have to knock on every door and tell them about Disclosure Scotland. At the moment, there is not enough oversight and protection."

He added: "Scotland's faith communities are united in their absolute opposition to child abuse. However, there remains a general sense of inertia when it comes to translating this opposition into practical measures that will reduce the risk to children."

Roshni will pay for any disclosures that haven't been done. Leaders of all ethnic faiths will be contacted, but Roshni will begin with Scotland's "big three" - Muslim, Sikh and Hindu. It's a big job: in Glasgow alone there are 18 mosques and 15 Muslim organisations for young people.

Nor will the work be easy. Khan says it is not uncommon for people to take local children into their homes for Koranic teaching. While they may merely be teaching children, they will be reluctant to be disclosured as many are being paid unofficially and want to avoid the taxman.

Once the Disclosure Initiative is under way, Roshni will start to campaign to prevent adults who have been found guilty of abusing children while in a position of trust simply moving to another part of Britain and starting to work with young people again. "It's happened in the past. People are slipping through loopholes even if we wanted to stop them moving around," said Khan, pointing out that similar problems faced Christian churches for many years.

Roshni is not focusing only on sexual abuse, however. "If a child wakes up every morning and gets a smack around the head, it will think that's the norm," Khan added. "In the long run, we need to ensure that all ethnic minority children feel comfortable reporting outside the community. In five years, I want to see all ethnic minority children empowered."

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