In 2012 a young infant was admitted to a London hospital, having been found unresponsive in his cot by his parents. A post-mortem examination showed that the child had died of florid rickets caused by severe vitamin D deficiency (Windibank, 2014). The parents, strict vegans with strong religious beliefs had refused any medical intervention for their child, including routine immunisations and health surveillance. They also refused vitamin D supplements, recommended by doctors when it was identified that both he and his mother were deficient. When the child became unwell with an infection, the parents did not seek any health care, stating that they were awaiting a ‘sign from God’.
In June 2015, 3 Muslim women from Bradford, UK, disappeared along with their 9 children, aged between 3 and 15 years. It is believed that they travelled to Syria via Saudi Arabia and Turkey, that their motivation was that they didn’t want their children growing up in England, and that they had a brother who was understood to be fighting with extremists in Syria (BBC, 2015).
In both these situations we could assume that the parents loved their children and would not have wished any harm to come to them. The parents were apparently motivated by their beliefs; we presume that none perceived their actions as abusive. And yet, all these children were either seriously harmed or at least potentially put at risk of harm.
Parental beliefs have the potential to be a great force for good in a child’s life and development; they also have the potential to cause great harm. Deciding when the state has a duty to intervene and act in contravention of a parent’s beliefs is fraught with legal and ethical dilemmas. However, it is not an issue we can ignore, particularly given all we know of abuses suffered in religious institutions, and a growing awareness of the risks posed by strongly-held fundamentalist beliefs (Gilligan, 2009; Sidebotham & Appleton, 2012).
The latest issue of Child Abuse Review, published just before Christmas, explores these issues. The issue includes papers on the complexities of exploring child protection within Islamic contexts and attitudes towards corporal punishment, both of which I discuss in the accompanying editorial. In addition, there are papers on child protection in sport; sex offenders’ awareness of online security; young people’s understanding of parental substance misuse and domestic violence; and the needs of child protection workers.
BBC (Producer). (2015, 9.9.15). Missing Bradford sisters: Mother ‘didn’t want children to grow up in UK’. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-33201176
Gilligan, P. (2009). Considering religion and beliefs in child protection and safeguarding work: is any consensus emerging? Child Abuse Review, 18(2), 94-110. doi: 10.1002/car.1059
Sidebotham, P., & Appleton, J. V. (2012). Understanding Complex Systems of Abuse: Institutional and Ritual Abuse. Child Abuse Review, 21(6), 389-393. doi: 10.1002/car.2253
Windibank, O. (2014). Serious case review: Baby F: D.O.B. 01/01/2012: D.O.D. 14/06/2012: independent overview report. Bexley: Bexley Safeguarding Children Board.