It has been drawn up by a working group, chaired by the Department for Education and comprising of faith leaders, the Metropolitan Police and voluntary sector organisations and charities including the NSPCC and the Victoria Climbie Foundation.
The action plan, which focuses on four key themes - engaging communities, empowering practitioners, supporting victims and witnesses, and communicating key messages - proposes stronger training and information for social workers, police and other frontline practitioners working with children.
While there has been progress in recent years, ministers are concerned that abuse linked to faith or belief is still misunderstood, hidden and going unreported.
According to the DfE, in the last 10 years there have been 81 recorded police investigations in London of allegations that children have been abused, where faith has been a factor.
Children’s minister Tim Loughton said, ‘Child abuse is appalling and unacceptable wherever it occurs and in whatever form it takes. Abuse linked to faith or belief in spirits, witchcraft or possession is a horrific crime, condemned by people of all cultures, communities and faiths – but there has been a "wall of silence" around its scale and extent. It is not our job to challenge people’s beliefs, but it is our job to protect children. There can never be a blind eye turned to violence or emotional abuse or even the smallest risk that that religious beliefs will lead to young people being harmed.
‘The number of recorded cases nationally remains tiny but we know that historically, it goes unreported. There has been only very gradual progress in understanding the issues over the last few years – either because community leaders have been reluctant to challenge beliefs which risk leading to real abuse in their midst; or because authorities misunderstand the causes or are cowed by political correctness.’
He added, ‘There are no easy solutions or silver bullets to solving this – this will require hard work building intelligence on the ground so social workers, carers and police can step in early to protect children at risk and bring perpetrators to justice. This plan will help people recognise and know how to act on evidence, concerns and signs that a child’s health and safety is being threatened. Everyone working with children has a responsibility to recognise and know how to act on evidence that a child is being abused.’
Mor Dioum, director of the Victoria Climbie Foundation, a member of the working group, said, ‘By bringing the issue into the open, and working with our statutory partners, the relevant communities and the voluntary sector, we can better protect and support members of our communities when they seek to highlight their concerns.
‘However, we need to work more effectively with families to achieve better outcomes for children and young people affected by this type of abuse.’
- The National action plan to tackle child abuse linked to faith and belief https://consumption.education.gov.uk/publications/standard/publicationDetail/Page1/DFE-00094-2012