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Turning a blind eye

The horrific events in Iraq and Syria were not the only shocking news this week. An independent report on child sexual abuse in Rotherham by Professor Alexis Jay told an equally unbelievable story. The bald facts were already known. Gangs of men, mostly from Pakistani backgrounds, had sexually abused girls as young as eleven. What the report revealed were the scale of abuse and the failure of the police and local council staff to take appropriate action.

Professor Jay says that at least 1,400 girls were victims of these crimes. That no one in authority took these crimes seriously, despite three reports, and failed to recognise a duty to protect these children is unbelievably shocking and shameful. It seems that the police and council officials ignored or even suppressed the evidence to avoid being accused of racism. Instead they blamed the victims and their families and turned a blind eye.

Even after the conviction of some of those involved in paedophile abuse no disciplinary action was taken towards officials guilty of professional incompetence. Both the Home Secretary and her Shadow Yvette Cooper are calling for the resignation of Shaun Wright, the Police and Crime Commissioner who was previously responsible for Rotherham’s children and young peoples’ department. The Labour Party has threatened to suspend him from party membership from which he has now resigned but he will not resign from the PCC role. Rotherham Council leader, Roger Stone, has resigned.

These professional and governmental failures raise lots of questions that need honest answers. What does all this say about the state of family and community life in Britain today? How could so many children be abused over a 16 year period without their families acting to stop it? Preserving community cohesion is an important responsibility of local councils but why did the Pakistani community that constitutes 8% of Rotherham balk so heavily in official minds? Should not community understanding and relations have been positively nurtured in a manner that prevents such crime and the fear of being accused of racism? Why did the police and council officials not seek the help of Asian community leaders to stop the abuse? And what were the children and young peoples’ department doing if it wasn’t protecting these children?

On a totally different subject, that of religious persecution, blindness is also an issue. 70% of the world’s population live in countries with high or very high levels of restriction on religious freedom. 100,000 Christians are killed every year because of their faith and the scale of persecution is growing. Nor are Christians the only victims; Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists and Baha’is are also persecuted in some countries, not to forget the Kurdish Yazidis. The UN Declaration of Human Rights affirms “the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion”. What is the UN doing to fulfil this? Should a commitment to religious freedom appear in all the party manifestos in 2015? What more could British faith communities do to support their persecuted brothers and sisters?

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