Am I alone in wondering why there is no news coverage of the trial of those charged with murdering Khyra Ishaq? Normally, a horrible case of this sort would be guaranteed tabloid headlines, but in the last week or so, it has got no further than the Birmingham Mail. I can guess at a few reasons for this silence. One is that it is out in the provinces. If this hideous crime had been committed in London then I think it might be of more interest to the BBC and national press. Secondly, it involves a black family who also happen to be Muslim. This sort of thing touches upon many modern sensibilities. Since I am quite lacking in sensitivity about race, religion and so on, I thought I would outline a couple of points which have occurred to me about this case.
Just to remind readers of the circumstances behind this; Khyra Ishaq was a seven year old girl of Caribbean heritage. Her family were converts to Islam and the children were made to wear Muslim clothing to school. As result of this there was some teasing or bullying and in December 2007, the children were withdrawn from school to be educated at home. Several attempts were made to visit the family. People from the school came round, the police knocked on the door and a social worker also called. None were allowed into the house. Five months later, in May 2008, Khyra Ishaq died of infections caused by severe malnutrition; she starved to death.
While it is quite plain that Birmingham have fallen down badly on the job and not for the first time, we must not lose sight of who bears ultimate responsibility for this crime; those who starved and tortured this little girl to death. It is not hard to figure out why the local authority were not over zealous in pursuing this family and finding out what was happening to the child. Like Victoria Climbie, she was black. This means that local authority officers will pussyfoot about far more than they would if it were a white family. Nobody wants to be accused of racism! The child had been withdrawn from school, supposedly due to bullying she received for wearing a Muslim outfit. This is another of society's sacred cows. Where Islam is concerned, we must all tread carefully. (Understandable really. Upset a Muslim these days and the next thing you know you've got a crowd of bearded madmen calling for your decapitation). I strongly suspect that if this had been a white Christian family where there were welfare concerns about a very young child, a more active approach would have been adopted.
Readers will perhaps remember that the failure by Haringey Council in the Climbie affair involved a lot of "cultural sensitivity" towards those who were caring for the child. The fact that Victoria was plainly terrified of her aunt, for example, was attributed to the respect which black children traditionally have for their elders! Some of the worst failings were by officers who were themselves black. I can well imagine that as soon as people in Birmingham Council became aware that this was a black family and that there were allegations of Islamophobia being bandied about, they decided to take a very "softly, softly" approach.
How much did this have to do with home education? A bit, but probably not a great deal. Wicked people will always find a way to harm innocent children. It has happened before and it will happen again. All the safeguarding in the world will not stop a determined person from hurting a child. All the well known cases of child cruelty in recent years have involved children at school. At the same time, it must be remembered that it was because they found it so easy to deregister their children from school that the mother and partner of Khyra Ishaq were able to starve her to death in this leisurely fashion. Nobody set eyes on her for months after she was taken out of school. The parents stood on their rights to deny anybody access to their home and this is the reason why nobody noticed that the child was being starved to death. Five months is a long time for a child to be completely out of sight in this way. It would probably not have been possible to starve and torture her to death in this fashion had she still been at school.
The case of Khyra Ishaq is not a strong argument for the increased regulation of home education, but nor can the fact that her death followed deregistration from school and complete seclusion from society, be ignored entirely. Had the process of deregistration been a little more forbidding and formal, then it is quite possible that the family would not have taken this extremely serious step. As things stand, the withdrawal of a child from school in this way can be undertaken at a moments notice. This is probably not a good thing. Still, as I said above, wicked and cruel people will always find a way to hurt children. Tightening up the regulations surrounding home education might perhaps deter one or two cases like this, but they will not eradicate cruelty and neglect. These will always be with us.