Published online by Cambridge University Press: 10 April 2013
Responding to the death of Victoria Climbié in 2003, the Laming Report stated that cultural differences should never again be a factor in inadequate child protection. Yet since that time there have been further deaths of children involving exorcism and allegations of witchcraft, based in part on particular understandings of Christianity. Situations resulting in forced marriage, cliterodectomy, ‘honour’ killing and corporal punishment are practices often perceived as arising from religious belief, both by those who defend them and by critics. This article explores practices perceived as grounded in religious belief or culture that conflict with current child protection practice and norms about what is harmful to children. The role of religious education, rights to manifest religious belief and different understandings of adoption are also considered as examples of religious difference in understandings about children. Engagement with religious difference through a defence of children's rights and autonomy are proposed as one means to resolve conflicts between religious worldviews and what it means to protect children. The aim is to identify and foster reflection and debate about different understandings of what constitutes harm, in order to enhance consensus over child protection where views of what is harmful differ radically.1
2 Cliterodectomy is used as a neutral term for a procedure otherwise known as female circumcision or female genital mutilation.
3 Lord Laming, The Victoria Climbié Inquiry Report (January 2003), available at <http://www.dh.gov.uk/en/Publicationsandstatistics/Publications/PublicationsPolicyAndGuidance/DH_4008654>, accessed 28 January 2013.
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6 An Angolan refugee, Child B, aged eight, was cut, blinded and beaten to death by Sita Kissanga and Sebastian Pinto in the name of exorcising witchcraft: V Dodd, ‘More children victims of cruel exorcisms’, The Guardian, 4 June 2005; Hoskins, R, The Boy in the River (London, 2012)Google Scholar.
7 15-year-old Kristy Bamu, drowned by his sister Magalie Bamu and her boyfriend Eric Bikubi during torture to procure exorcism: see ‘Witchcraft murder: couple guilty of Kristy Bamu killing’, BBC News, <www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-17040111>, accessed 28 January 2013. See also the case of a mother jailed in 2011 for the forced exorcism of her son: R Cooper, ‘Jailed: mother who refuses to bring back son, 17, from Nigeria where he was “forced to undergo exorcism for disobedience”’, Daily Mail, 15 February 2011, <www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1357167>, accessed 28 January 2013.
8 Children Act 1989, s 1 and s 31.
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11 R v Williamson  UKHL 15.
12 Education Act 1996, ss 548 and 549.
13 Proverbs 13:24; 23:13–14.
14 Enacted into English law by the Human Rights Act 1998.
15 Williamson, at para 49: ‘The legislation is intended to protect children against the distress, pain and other harmful effects … of physical violence … . That corporal punishment may have these harmful effects is self-evident.’ The UK Colleges of Paediatrics and Psychiatrists describe corporal punishment as ‘ineffective and negative’: Department of Health consultation on corporal punishment (2000), <http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/+/www.dh.gov.uk/en/Consultations/Closedconsultations/DH_4083513>, accessed 12 February 2013; Sturge, C and Glaser, D, ‘Contact and domestic violence: the experts' court report’, (2000) Family Law 615–623Google Scholar.
16 Section 58 of the Children Act 2004, defining harm from corporal punishment; section 120 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002, highlighting the harmful effects of children witnessing domestic violence.
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18 Forced Marriage Unit, <http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/travel-and-living-abroad/when-things-go-wrong/forced-marriage>, accessed 14 February 2013.
19 An-Na'im, Forced Marriage Project, estimated 1,000 cases per year in 2000.
20 15% of forced marriage victims are young men, often with learning difficulties: see, for example, City of Westminster v IC, KC v NNC  EWHC 3096; Re SA (Vulnerable Adult)  EWHC 2942,  1 FLR 867; Re SK (by her litigation friend A-M Hutchinson)  EWHC 3202,  3 AllER 421,  2 FLR 230,  1 WLR 8.
21 Hirani v Hirani  4 FLR 232.
22 Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007.
23 Re K sub nom LA v N and Others  EWHC 2956.
24 Re AB  EWHC 1436.
25 ‘Honour’ is a translation of the Urdu izzat. It is recognised that the law is sceptical about the use of the word ‘honour’ in connection with criminal activity against women: see eg Re B-M (Care Orders: Risk)  EWCA 205, Wall LJ.
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27 Re R (Minor: Medical Treatment)  2 FLR 757; Re O (Medical Treatment)  2 FLR 149.
28 Re L (Medical Treatment: Gillick Competency)  2 FLR 810; Re E (A Minor: Consent to Medical Treatment)  1 FLR 386; Re S (A Minor: Consent to Medical Treatment)  2 FLR 1065.
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30 R v Denbigh High School, ex parte Begum  UKHL 15.
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33 R v Aberdare Girls High School v Rhonddha Cynon Taf Unitary Authority, ex parte SA Watkins-Singh  EWHC 1865.
34 Green Paper 2003.
36 Office for Standards in Education.
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49 Re A (Adoption in contravention of the Adoption Act)  2 FLR 727.
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