Teachers need to be given the skills and confidence to handle the "taboo" subject of child abuse in minority ethnic communities, according to the charity Roshni.
Anela Anwar, head of projects at the organisation, told TESS that frontline staff lacked understanding of the cultural and religious issues surrounding abuse, but also feared being branded racist if they took action in a case where they feared a minority ethnic child was the victim of abuse.
"We need to empower Scotland's public sector so that they feel confidence in tackling child abuse in all our communities. This is particularly important for those in the education sector as minority ethnic children have very little opportunity to discuss concerns or report abuse at home," she said.
"Often children will disclose at school rather than within the family. Teachers need to be equipped with the skills and confidence to recognise signs and deal effectively with disclosure and instances of abuse."
Roshni, which means "light" in Urdu and Hindi, last week published a report, Perceptions of Child Abuse in Scotland's Minority Ethnic Communities, based on research conducted between July and October 2012 with 400 individuals from minority ethnic communities and about 100 service providers.
It found that only 27 per cent of minority ethnic respondents perceived support services as culturally sensitive, while only 21 per cent of support services said they were confident in engaging with minority ethnic communities.
"Clearly there is a 'nervousness' on both sides that inhibits discussion about child abuse," Miss Anwar said.
The survey also found that 10 per cent of respondents said they would not report concerns about sexual abuse - down from 16 per cent in Roshni's last report in 2006.
"It was felt that support services do not understand barriers such as honour and shame, and without a clear understanding of these issues individuals are reluctant to engage," the report said.
There was a "real feeling" among respondents that support services were "too aggressive in their dealings" with families from minority ethnic communities and saw them as "problematic".
Miss Anwar added: "The most important thing is the safety of the child, but teachers need to remember that in ME (minority ethnic) communities, sexual abuse is a real taboo subject.
"To get a child to open up and talk about abuse, when this could forever damage their marriage prospects and their standing in the community, requires cultural understanding and sensitivity."
All teachers and education staff should be offered training that addressed cultural barriers, such as the minority ethnic concepts of honour and shame, she said.
ATTITUDES TO ABUSE
The Roshni report also assessed the attitudes of those from minority ethnic communities to sexual abuse and abuse generally.
- One in 10 did not believe sexual abuse occurred in their communities, including 44 per cent of those aged over 65.
- More than two-thirds of respondents said there was denial of child abuse in their communities, with some commenting that this was particularly prevalent among older people.
- About 50 per cent of those questioned acknowledged their views were influenced by their culture.
- Most respondents said that they would feel comfortable discussing child abuse with their parents or children, while 19 per cent said they would not and 11 per cent were unsure.
- The survey highlighted a need to raise greater awareness of where children might be at risk of abuse. Only half of respondents felt there was a risk to children of being abused at home.
- Schools and places of worship were seen as the least likely places to pose a risk.