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NSPCC sets up Asian helpline

Teachers anxious about cultural misunderstanding can now phone for expert advice.Jon Slater reports

What should a teacher do if she is told by a teenage Muslim girl that her parents are threatening to force her into an unwanted marriage because she has been sleeping with her white boyfriend?

Or what if a boy complains that he is being hit by an Imam during religious teaching at his mosque?

In these situations, even well-intentioned attempts to help can be hampered by cultural misunderstandings, language barriers or a refusal of close-knit families to open up to outsiders. At worst, they could act as a flashpoint for religious or racial tension.

That, says Muhammed Haneef, is one of the reasons the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children has set up a helpline to deal specifically with child protection issues in Asian communities.

There is already a general NSPCC line for child protection help. But the charity decided to set up a specialist line for Asian communities after it noticed that, although Asian children are over-represented in care, families from the Indian sub-continent make less use of social services than the white population.

"Children's welfare is paramount whether they are Asian, black or white," said Mr Haneef, director of the helpline who has worked in child protection in the UK and India for more than 15 years.

"The best advice I can give teachers is not to make assumptions. An arranged marriage is not necessarily bad but if it is forced then obviously it is.

"Callers contacting the helpline, whether they are children, parents or professionals, can be helped to understand issues from both English and Asian perspectives which is essential in solving many problems."

The helpline has been launched as part of the charity's Full Stop campaign aimed at ending cruelty to children.

Advice can be given to professionals in English, but also to children or their families in five of the most common Asian languages spoken in the United Kingdom: Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi, Gujarati and Bengali.

The English Asian Service can be contacted on 0800 0967719

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