• 05 May - 11 May, 2018
  • Shahed Sadullah
  • London Eye

Over the past few months, there has been quite a furore building up over a piece carried by The Times and the Daily Mail heavily critical of the decision by a local council in London to place a Christian girl in foster care in a Muslim home. One would normally have been surprised that The Times would have chosen to carry such a piece of cheap sensationalism over a three-column spread on its front page, but over the past few years, especially since Brexit which has divided this nation right down the middle between extreme right on the one hand, and centre-left on the other, The Times has chosen to fall on the nasty side of the line.

The Times’ story was eagerly taken up by papers like the Daily Mail and Express who all saw it as containing good ripe stuff, the stuff that an Islamophobic dream is made of.

The story consisted of a white Christian child having been forced to go into foster care to live with a very traditional ‘niqab wearing’ Muslim family, totally contradictory to the values in which the child had been brought up. She is alleged to have said that she was being forced to learn Arabic by the family who spoke no English while she, it was said, was from an entirely English speaking family, having been born in the UK and baptised in a church. The foster carers were further demonised by being accused of having removed a bracelet from the child’s neck which had a Christian cross; and the child was being so heavily indoctrinated by the family that on a trip to see her mother she reportedly said that Christmas and Easter were stupid.

It may be explained here that the British social services are, in extreme circumstances, authorised to take children away from their parents; these circumstances include a set of conditions where there are reasons to fear that the child will not be looked after properly or because it may even be feared that the child’s life may be in danger.

It was a story that created quite a stir with far right groups like the English Defence League and Britain First, some of which appear to have received a new lease of life after the Brexit vote, jumping on the anti-Muslim Bandwagon which was already rolling along merrily.

The matter was ultimately taken up by the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) and the complaint was upheld against The Times which was required to print notice of the ruling on its front page. That would give Pakistani readers, many of whom once regarded The Times as a fortress of honest journalism, some idea how far away from their original moorings old British institutions, once household names in Pakistan, have come.

While many of the details involving the case could not be made public because of the sensitive nature of the contents and the fact that they involved a child, it was however, revealed during the hearing that the child’s mother had applied for a Scram bracelet, a tag to monitor levels of alcoholic consumption and her solicitors requested permission to supply results for cocaine testing. The child’s biological father could not be traced, which in such cases is not at all surprising. The order further revealed that a court appointed guardian had visited the child at the carers’ home and had spoken to the child alone. “The guardian has no concerns as to the child’s welfare and she reports that the child is settled and well cared for by the foster carer,” the document stated.

The papers further showed that Tower Hamlets council had wanted the girl to be placed with her maternal grandmother but strict vetting rules meant this was not immediately possible and she had to be placed in temporary care. The grandparents underwent a full assessment and the judge was able to approve the request. The real catch came when it was revealed that the grandmother, in fact, is a Muslim and could not speak much English. The grandmother also expressed a desire to “return to her country of origin and care for the child there”.

While on the one hand the incident shows the sort of thing Muslims have to contend with while dealing with the media, on the other it shows just how tragic the outcome of the modern system, with the collapse of the age-old family system, can be. Young women are so often left to cope with the fallout and some just cannot manage the onerous task of having to bring up children all on their own. Children are very often the result of very short term relationships and therefore it is not unusual for the male parent to be untraceable. We once had a neighbour who had brought up five children on her own, each having a different father without the mother being quite sure who the father was. The question, therefore, of tracing out any of the fathers, did not arise. The mother and all the five children, needless to say, were being brought up on social security and thus had become the liability of the tax payer. That is the other side of the social security system, the effects of which often have to be borne by those who genuinely need and deserve help. •