Britain’s child neglect a symptom of individualism

The ever-increasing reports of child neglect in Britain clearly demonstrate that more and more parents are mistreating their children to pursue the fulfilment of their own needs.

The recent case of a mother who repeatedly tortured her 17 month old baby to death, so that she could carry on with her own life is just the tip of the iceberg. When the body of the baby was examined he had 50 injuries including 8 broken ribs, a fractured spine and missing finger nails. Preliminary findings suggest that social workers, police officials and health professionals failed to piece together the jigsaw of neglect in spite of several warning signs. Then there is the horrific story of 56 year old man from Sheffield who routinely raped his 2 daughters and fathered 9 children.

According to the latest available figures from National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), there are 32,700 children on child protection registers in the UK. Every ten days in England and Wales, on average, one child is killed at the hands of their parent. The people most likely to die a violent death are babies under 1 year old, who are four times more likely to be killed than the average person in England and Wales. 16% of children experienced serious maltreatment by parents, of whom one third experienced more than one type of maltreatment. Over a quarter of all rapes recorded by the police are committed against children under 16 years of age. Nearly 79,000 children are currently looked after by local authorities in the UK. It is fair to assume that the actual figure is much higher, as many children are either too scared to report abuse or simply do not know how to report it.

It is almost customary for governments to respond to cases of child neglect by launching public inquiries. In the past the outcome of such inquiries has led to either the social services playing a greater role in the prevention of the ill-treatment of children or new legislation aimed at offering children greater protection from abusive parents. All too often these inquiries fail to stem the growing tide of child abuse pervading British society. This has led some to call for tougher measures such as permanently taking children away from cruel parents or even stripping them of their right to reproduce. It is highly unlikely that the present government will make any headway in reducing the ill treatment of children. This is because the main cause behind child abuse is the unbridled individualism, which governments, sociologists and parents alike have repeatedly refused to acknowledge.

Individualism is an important pillar of Western Secularism and dominates many of the relationships that exist between people in Western societies. Individualism stipulates that people should put their interests first and foremost. This imbues in people a selfish mentality and encourages people to satisfy their own needs before the needs of others. Furthermore, individualism leads people to view responsibility as a burden and a hindrance towards the fulfilment of their selfish motives. Therefore, it is common to find people in the West, especially in the social sphere, entering and leaving relationships in order to avoid responsibility – all of which has a detrimental effect on society. Hence rampant fornication, abortions, single parent families, fathers avoiding child maintenance costs, mothers forsaking children to pursue careers, parents giving up children to foster homes and wanton child abuse are all symptoms of individualism.

Western governments are unable to deal with the effects of individualism and the harm it causes to society. This is because the role of the government is to guarantee individualism for its citizens and not to impose restrictions on people’s individuality. Therefore, the primary concern of government is the welfare of the individual and not the family or wider society. For instance, when dealing with the issue of child abuse, Western governments view the child and its rights as separate to the rights of the mother and the rights of the father. Naturally any solutions arising from this type of thinking will focus more on preserving the individuality of the child, mother or father than protecting the family or society. In this way, the family and society bear no collective responsibility towards the mistreatment of children, since law and responsibility are solely applied at the level of the individual.

In Islam, the concept of individualism is limited to the relationship between man and God and the relationship of man with himself i.e. in the matters of worship, foodstuffs, clothing and morals. In relationships that involve people, individuals are permitted to satisfy their needs provided that they do not violate the rights of other individuals or transgress the limits imposed by Islam for the welfare of the society. In all types of relationships Muslims are required to seek the pleasure of God by conducting themselves according to laws prescribed by Islam. These laws when practiced produce a unique and distinct character for the human being, a character shaped by altruism and not selfishness. Islam promoted and raised high, not only the relationship between the parent and child, but also that of family and society.

Islam praised the family, the messenger (s.a.w) of Allah said, "Do marry the devoted and prolific women, for I will be proud of you before other nations on the Day of Judgement." [Abu Dawood, at-Tirmidhi]. Islam forbade the killing and torturing of children. It is mentioned in the Qur’an: “Kill not your children for fear of want, We shall provide sustenance for them as well as for you” [TMQ Al-Isra: 31]

Islam has forbidden the neglect of children and has made it obligatory for parents to provide food, clothing, shelter and to meet the various other requirements of their children. The messenger (s.a.w) of Allah said, “It is enough sin for a person that he ignores those whom he is responsible for” [Abu Dawood]

Thus, within the Islamic framework children are regarded as a blessing and the family is viewed as playing a pivotal role in the stability of society.

Today, individualism threatens the social fabric of British society through the erosion of family values and violation of civil rights. Left unquestioned and unchecked, individualism will result in the fragmentation of both Muslim and non-Muslim communities. The Islamic attitude towards the family and society is much more responsible than the selfish outlook of secularism. Therefore it is essential that Muslims in Britain expose the shortcomings of individualism and endeavour to present Islam to non-Muslims as the only solution to societal problems.