A 'white Christian girl' placed with veiled Muslim foster mums sparks outrage in Britain

Worshippers' candles burn inside Westminster Cathedral in London, Aug 20, 2017.
Worshippers' candles burn inside Westminster Cathedral in London, Aug 20, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (WASHINGTON POST) - A story by the Times in London about a British girl who was placed into temporary foster care with a Muslim family generated a wave of responses and pushback this week.

According to the British newspaper, "a white Christian child was taken from her family and forced to live with a niqab-wearing foster carer in a home where she was allegedly encouraged to learn Arabic."

The story of the anonymous child in foster care was plastered on the front pages and websites of British media, from the BBC to the Daily Mail.

The Times did not report why the child was placed in foster care to begin with - but did quote the anonymous mother complaining that her daughter was mistreated.

"The girl's mother is said by friends to have been horrified by the alien cultural, religious and linguistic environment in which her daughter has spent the past six months," the Times reported.

The British reports featured photographs that showed a woman, alleged to be one of her caregivers, veiled all in black, escorting the child.

The photographs, to many, appeared sinister.

The Times story also reported: "It is understood that the child told her mother that when she was given her favourite Italian food to take home, the foster carer would not allow her to eat it because the carbonara meal contained bacon."

On Wednesday (Aug 30), the Guardian reported that some of the images used by British media and others in their reporting on the story might have been doctored.

The message of the original reporting was clear - and critics say Islamophobic - that British authorities were placing a child at risk, that a young white Christian girl was being forced to assimilate to a foreign culture and even religion by Muslim caregivers.

"This is a five-year-old white girl. She was born in this country, speaks English as her first language, loves football, holds a British passport and was christened in a church," a friend of the girl's mother told the Times in its report.

Times chief investigative reporter Andrew Norfolk, quoting a file he had a look at, reported that the five-year-old girl's foster family removed "her necklace, which had a Christian cross, and suggested that she should learn Arabic."

The newspaper said the girl told her mother that her foster caregivers told her "Christmas and Easter are stupid" and that "European women are stupid and alcoholic."

The report said her foster family did not speak English.

The Tower Hamlets Council, the London borough government office that oversees the child custody case, issued a statement on Tuesday (Aug 29) that called out news reports for alleged inaccuracies.

The council spokesperson said, "While we cannot go into details of a case that would identify a child in foster care, there are inaccuracies in the reporting of it. For example, the child is in fact fostered by an English-speaking family of mixed race in this temporary placement. We would like to give more details but we are legally restricted to do so."

The council continued, "Our foster carers are qualified people from different backgrounds, with vast experience of looking after children. They represent the diverse makeup of our borough, which is a place where people of all backgrounds get on with one another."

On Wednesday, a family court judge in east London, Khatun Sapnara, ruled that the child should now live with her grandmother.