Islam and Child Protection


Thomas Crown

If you’ve been paying attention, you would have noticed the various stories regarding Islam and various instances of child abuse including child marriage, child abduction and prostitution, bacha bazi boys, and female genital mutilation.

Yet Islamic institutions have still managed to avoid the spotlight of the Royal Commission despite openly admitting to what most would consider a significant absence in all things pertaining to child protection structures, policies, and procedures.

In their 2013 statement to the inquiry, the Islamic Council of Victoria (ICV) acknowledged:

  • “Should an allegation of child abuse occur, we speculate there are no policies in place that would support effective handling of this type of crime. We suspect few Imams would have a Working With Children Check.”
  • “Policies and procedures to keep children safe and to report child abuse are absent from mosque settings…”
  • “We know the majority of Imams in Melbourne have had no training in human services, child protection, counselling, psychology, social work, pastoral care, despite them fulfilling duties that would align them with many of the above disciplines.”

With claims like these, one would expect the ICV to be up-front regarding the various steps that have been or need to be taken in order to create a safer environment for children. Yet this is not the case. The ICV however, are quick to blame the problem on a lack of resources:

  • “The Muslim community is under-resourced when it comes to social services and also when it comes to advocates for an array of social problems faced by the Muslim community.”

Quick to hide behind their diversity:

  • “Some of these risk factors are culturally specific and cannot be generalised across all Muslim communities, given our community is culturally and linguistically diverse.”

Quick to assume that their revolving door of leadership reduces risk:

  • “Should an allegation of child abuse occur, the risk of a cover-up would be slim because members of the mosque committee change over every few years and they are members of the public. This type of information would be difficult to conceal and committee of management are not tied to or accountable to any hierarchical religious structure.”

And quick to move towards perspectivism:

  • “Schools involve religious teachers in reviewing concepts of child protection but from an Islamic point of view, which emphasises the right of a child to be safe from harm.”

Interestingly enough, the ICV, openly admits that the culture of Islam leaves no room for the disclosure of abuse:

  • “Disclosure of abuse among the many Muslim communities that represent huge cultural and ethnic diversity is likely to be compounded by the impact of cultural and not religious imperatives arising from honour/respect, modesty and shame/embarrassment, which have a considerable influence on how children will behave, on what is acceptable to be discussed among families and what is not. These concepts are also likely to impact on how disclosure by a child to an adult is received, supported and pursued.”

And as there is no or little room for disclosure, it is understandable why they wouldn’t have any record of child abuse:

  • “The Islamic Council of Victoria has no record of contact by any single adult who has experienced child abuse whilst in the care of State or Church based institutions.”

So it seems we have some kind of circular reasoning at play here. There is no abuse because there are no records. There are no records because there are no structures to produce them. There are no structures because there is no abuse. This of course still leaves out all the side excuses of Islam being different and diverse, and needing resources etcetera.

Naturally, one would assume that upon receiving such a statement from the ICV, those at the Royal Commission would have been outraged by the lack of child protection systems and the absurd excuses proposed as to why safety measures need not be implemented, and at least made some effort to investigate what was happening behind closed doors in Islamic settings.

Yet despite this, the Royal Commission has still chosen not to include Islamic institutions, nor do they mention anything pertaining to the ‘religion of peace’ in the 228-page exclusive summary of their final report. For some strange reason, Islam remains elusive and untouchable. Even when all the odds are stacked so highly against it.

Photo by mikecogh