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Shock survey on child abuse in Asian families
19th March, 2007

The shock results of a survey out today revealed that over two-thirds of British Asians would hesitate before reporting child abuse within their families.

A survey by the charity NSPCC conducted found that a majority of British Asians thought reporting child abuse would negatively affect the izzat of the families involved. They questioned over 500 respondents of Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi decent.

The survey will be highlighted in a documentary today for the BBC Asian Network titled Family Secrets which asks whether families would blow the whistle on suspected child abuse.

It features a victim named Josef (not his real name) of Pakistani origin, who was abused as a child at the age of ten. He says: "So [my father] put me in the Mosque, I used to go there after school and weekends, and I was even, I was put there for a few months, and I used to sleep over there, over night, and that's when the abuse used to happen."

Josef adds: "I was numbed towards my mother, and this was a good 10 years ago. However, it's taken me the last 10 years to really come to terms with my mother's attitude towards this."

"And it came to a stage where I have very little to do with my mother, because I think she's not helping, because of this community issue of shame, and honour and dignity within the community, and we don't talk about this thing, or anything bad, that we only talk about the noble things in our community."

NSPCC Asian helpline manager Saleha Islam says: "Child abuse happens in all communities and there is no evidence that it is greater amongst British Asians. However, cultural issues and the importance placed on family reputation could mean that it is being hidden away."

"'Izzat' means that family comes before the individual, but to keep children safe from abuse their interests must come first. We want to send out a message to the British Asian community that putting up a wall of silence will not protect children. It will only protect the abuser who will be free to abuse again."

The NSPCC survey, which wasn't commissioned by the Asian Network but will be discussed in today's documentary, has revealed the shockingly high statistic that 37% of those interviewed had suspected a child was being abused and half of them knew the child personally. But 42% of those who suspected child abuse did nothing about their concerns.

Those surveyed also highlighted concerns by respondents about communicating with authorities:
  • 62% thought the child would be removed from their family
  • 58% thought the child would be harmed further by the perpetrator
  • 56% were worried the authorities would not understand their culture
  • 54% were worried the authorities would not understand their religion
  • 37% were worried they could not explain the situation in English.

    Of those who did act, fewer than four per cent reported the abuse to the police and only three per cent reported it to social services.

    The majority chose to deal with their concerns themselves, with a quarter confronting the alleged abuser, 24 per cent telling a member of the child's family and 17 per cent speaking to the child who they suspected was being abused.

    Respondents also felt unable to turn to their own community. Two-thirds said they did not think their community was open to talking about child abuse. This was reflected in the fact that only three per cent told a community figure, a religious preacher or someone in a community organisation.

    Last year a report co-authored by the campaigner Ghayasuddin Siddiqui warned that child abuse was a serious issue that was being ignored by religious institutions.

    The controversy in December 2004 over the Sikh play Behzti also revolved around sexual abuse of a minor within a Gurudwara. Its critics said such abuse did not happen despite evidence and news reports to the contrary.

    Saleha Islam from the NSPCC added: "We would like to see the Government lead a public education campaign that will give the British Asian community the knowledge and confidence to overcome any barriers to reporting child abuse."

    "The community must also take responsibility for changing any attitudes and beliefs that could be making their children vulnerable to abuse. We would like to see community representatives work more closely with the police, social services and other child protection professionals in forming child protection policies for their local area.

    The NSPCC runs the UK's only Asian Child Protection Helpline on 0800 096 7719 and its counsellors can take calls from adults and children in Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Punjabi and Urdu, as well as English. Children and young people can also call ChildLine on 0800 1111 for help and support, also provided by the NSPCC.

    Child abuse can take four forms, all of which can cause long term damage to a child: sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, and neglect.

    Family Secrets will be on BBC Asian Network today at 6:30pm.

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