Abdul Latif, a 38-year-old Tamil Muslim from Nagapattinam, faces an extraordinary situation. His chacha’s (chittappa in Tamil) children, a boy aged 10 years and a girl aged 8 years, are being forcibly held by British authorities in state custody in Birmingham, UK. The authorities have pronounced the parents unfit on a host of dubious grounds. Latif has asked for the children to be repatriated to him and his wife in India, so that they can at least be with family rather than in state custody.
Latif and his family have been assessed as fit carers for the children by the responsible Indian child welfare authorities. But their report, conducted after a full on-the-ground assessment, is being ignored by the British social services. They have rejected Latif after a single phone interview, mainly because he expressed a special concern about his niece being with strangers in foster care. The British social services say that this shows a gender discriminatory attitude!
Latif’s household comprises himself, his wife, mother and two children who are the same age as their taken cousins. They would provide a warm and nurturing environment for the Birmingham children. In Latif’s home they would have companions their age and two generations of loving elders looking after them. You would have thought that a child-centric system would do everything possible to quickly return the children to their extended family in Nagapattinam.
But sadly, this is not the case. The Birmingham social services are fighting tooth and nail to keep the children in the UK until adulthood with their state-paid non-Tamil foster carers.
The foster carers are of Pakistani origin. The placement of the children with Pakistani foster carers appears to be a clumsy gesture at acknowledging the children’s heritage on, one supposes, the ignorant premise that any Muslim family would do. There is no understanding whatsoever that the children as Tamil Muslims have a distinct language and culture to that in the north of the Indian subcontinent. This is a crucial issue given that the children have relatives in Tamil Nadu who are ready and willing to take them in.
What makes the children’s situation in foster care even more unacceptable is that, legally, the children are being kept as undocumented immigrants by the UK authorities. Despite four years of forced foster care and refusing their relatives’ continuous pleas for the children to be sent to India, the UK authorities have not even issued visas to regularize the children’s presence in the UK. This means that after being forced to spend their entire childhood in the UK, the children will age out of foster care to find themselves unwanted and possibly facing deportation as undocumented immigrants in the UK.
What is the logic of keeping these children in the UK under such circumstances?
For this we have to turn to how the children came to be removed from their parents in the first place. The parents were illegal immigrants in the city of Birmingham, UK. They had been managing well for about ten years when the father lost his job. He was advised by a children’s organization to apply to the Birmingham Local Authority for help. The judge says that when the family first approached the Local Authority: “there were no concerns about the parents’ general abilities to provide the children with good enough care…. The concerns all related to the parents’ ability, financially, to provide for the children and the potential instability arising out of the parents’ immigration status or lack of it….. A major dispute erupted at one of the first meetings between the parties to discuss the financial support the Local Authority would give to the family…..the disagreement about financial support escalated over the next 14 months and the children became embroiled in the dispute.”
The “dispute” was on two points: whether the children were entitled to free school lunches and whether the parents were entitled to an additional weekly stipend of £70 above the stipend of the same amount being given by the Local Authority for the children.
The dispute ended with the children being taken away from their home in a surprise move by the Local Authority. The parents never saw them again.
The judgment itself concedes that the parents were correct in both their claim for the school lunches and the additional stipend. However, when the Local Authority found that it could not deny the family’s legal demands, they accused the parents of causing “emotional harm” to their children by “using them” to get money from the Local Authority and causing them to be “worried about financial matters”. In the judge’s words: “The fact that the parents had perhaps a valid grievance in relation to the payments of £70 per week does not justify using the children in the way they did.”
From the judgment it appears that the children’s father resorted to considerable histrionics to get the Local Authority to give the children their entitlements. He declared at one point that he would “jump in the sea” if the Local Authority did not help his family. On another occasion the father refused to take his son home for lunch when the school withheld his free meal. All this was called “emotional abuse” and “neglecting the child’s needs” and a child protection investigation was opened against the parents. So the parents found that they were suddenly being accused of child abuse when all they had done was to try to get help for the children from the Local Authority.
Social workers began to come to the children’s school and ask them strange questions. Naturally, the family responded fearfully and defensively. But this was used against them to say that the parents were endangering the children by “not co-operating” with the social workers. The Local Authority subjected the little girl to an invasive body examination at school without her parents being present. The father hit back by accusing the authorities of sexual assault. This was taken as another instance of his “using” the children by making “false” claims.
While the case was going on, the mother was pregnant with their third child. She left for Singapore, where she has family, for fear of losing even that child as it is routine in England for babies to be removed at birth if previous children are in care. But the judge called this “abandonment” by the mother.
The real reason for this ferocious treatment of the family is revealed when the judge says, “In my judgment, the father has sought to prolong these proceedings in order that he may shortly be able to take advantage of the seven year rule to obtain leave to remain….He could establish seven years presence by reference to [his son’s] seventh birthday on 10th April this year.”
So the judge’s seventh birthday gift to the little boy was to confirm him and his sister in state custody, never to see their parents again. The cruelest line of her judgment (yes, it was a woman who passed this order!) comes at the end when she says, “I accept that the parents love the children. The father’s breakdown in closing to my mind was genuine.”
The saga of cruelty does not end here. Last month a British social worker, along with a translator, finally contacted by phone the children’s Indian uncle, Abdul Latif, referred to above. The translator was Sri Lankan. This is relevant because South Indian and Sri Lankan Tamil are different. The translator made mistakes both while interpreting the questions from the social worker and while relaying Latif’s answers. Latif has submitted the audio recording of his interview with the social worker to the British court. But the British social services are trying to block it from being heard.
The phone call to Latif by the British social worker was not so much an inquiry as an ambush. The social worker was not in the least interested in Latif’s ability to care for the children. She was only interested in what Latif had to say about the British social services’ decision four years ago to remove the children from their parents. Any sensible person would have difficulty understanding why the children were removed. Latif honestly stated what he had understood about his uncle facing difficulties due to overstaying in the UK. He tried to explain that whatever resources his uncle may have lacked, he had the means to bring up the children and would bring them up as his own.
But the social worker was having none of this. Under British law, if the social services can prove that the extended family are not on their side regarding the negative assessment of the parents, then that disqualifies them from taking in the children. Latif’s well-intentioned words about his uncle and aunt being loving parents who were blessed with children after many years of childlessness gave the social worker enough to claim that Latif did not “understand” the social services’ “concerns” about the parents.
What finally damned Latif in the eyes of the British social worker was a gross misinterpretation by the translator of an emotional appeal he volunteered at the end of the interview. Latif asked the translator to please tell “Madam” the social worker to consider favourably his request for the return of the children. He said that they are “our children”, “our heirs”; that it hurts him and his family that when they are all there to take care of the children that they should be like orphans with strangers in a foreign country. He went on to say that if it were just a question of the boy that would be one thing, but they were particularly concerned about the girl. “Girls face problems. Anything can happen [He used the Tamil expression nulla-ketta]. Everywhere one hears about bad things happening to the girl child. Soon our niece she will be of age. Then what will happen?”
The laconic Sri Lankan interpreter translated this as Latif saying the words “girls are weak”. This sealed his fate. “Gender discrimination!” claimed the British social services triumphantly and Latif was rejected as an alternate carer for the children.
The matter now rests with the Birmingham family court where the next hearing is on July 9th, 2019. The family are apprehensive that the authorities will issue British passports to the children to try and stymie their claim for repatriation to India by overruling their Indian citizenship. It would be ironic that in an era when the UK and other Western governments are trying every means to restrict immigration to the West, especially by Muslims, the authorities will go out of the way to force these hapless Muslim children to stay in the UK just to prove a point.
Prominent Tamil educationist and social activist MG Dawood Miakhan (Quaide Milleth Educational and Social Trust) has extended support to the family’s appeal for repatriation of the children to India. The well-known pan-Indian women and child rights organization, the All India Democratic Women’s Association (“AIDWA”), has also supported the plea for repatriation.
Child development and family studies academician Dr Nandita Chaudhary and civil society doyen Dr John Dayal have filed affidavits in the on-going British proceedings which the authorities tried to prevent the court from considering. As is to be seen in too many of these Western “child protection” proceedings, the Birmingham social services are treating this as a legal battle that has to be won no matter the cost to the children. Without widespread public support, it is unlikely that these children will ever be released by them.
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