Saturday, September 18, 2010

Ramadan: Ritual Child Abuse.

Wait, what? There are cases of institutionalised child abuse in so many religious traditions, many of which are utterly barbaric, so why am I opening a post about it with a discussion of a tradition whose purpose appears to be asceticism and self-respect?

Because our society isn't quite brain-dead enough to allow the most horrific forms of abuse. We react with the proper abject horror to stories of girls being sent overseas to be married to their cousins at 14, or having their clitorises cut out, or of children being violated by priests. I'm not going to go into why they're wrong because anyone with a functioning brain stem knows how wrong they are; if you can't see the obvious I'm not going to be able to make you.

But thousands of kids across the country were sent to school last month with no lunch (nor money with which to buy any). Do you remember forgetting your lunch one day at school? I'm sure it happened at least once. Do you remember how tired you felt toward the end of the day? Do you remember how much harder it was to concentrate on what you were supposed to be learning? Now imagine your parents denying you food from dawn till dusk for thirty days. How do you think you would have coped?

Ramadan is one of the teacher's banes. For a kid in this situation, you can pretty much write off most of the month as far as learning or getting anything constructive done goes. And the damage isn't temporary; their brains are still developing, and the lack of food for the entire day for thirty days is not the sort of conditions evolution equipped it to develop properly in. The age at which you're supposed to fast is well before the age when the brain is mature, and many younger children are "encouraged" to do it as well as "preparation". It's not just food, either. If you forgot your lunch for one day, you'd at least be able to visit the bubblers for a drink — no such luck for these kids. I've heard of cases where children have been denied vital medication because it's taken orally and thus violates the "no-eating" rule.

The best argument I've heard in favour of it is that it's the kid's own choice and we oughtn't interfere. Bull. Shit. How much choice do you think the kid really had? Even if there are no formal repercussions at home for breaking it, which there often are, expression of disapproval and disappointment at that age is devastating enough. I grew up in a religious home; I know how that sort of thing can feel, and I was a lot older before I even realised that some of the things going on were harmful. And you're not going to be able to hide it — people talk. Schoolchildren gossip like anyone else. In any case, if the parents encourage harmful behaviour, wouldn't you generally think this is a Bad Thing that Should Not Happen?

I'm not done with sticking it to religion as regards child abuse, and as I mentioned at the beginning there are a lot worse things than Ramadan that happen to kids, but this is one case that a lot more fuss needs to be made about. People are paranoid about annoying religious people and Muslims in particular, but the truth only ever hurt anyone when a lie got there first. I know it's cliché of me, but as long as people need to hear it I'll say it anyway:
Think of the children.


  1. "the truth only ever hurt anyone when a lie got there first"

    If you were famous this would go in a book of quotes.

    And back on topic, agree with your entire premise. The frustrating thing about religion is that when you're born to a religious family, you do not have a choice. You are what they are. You are what they tell you to be. And it's impossible to convince a religious parent that their child deserves a "balanced" upbringing, because they see "balance" (knowledge of other religious options) as tainting the purity of their own.

  2. Never mind "other religious options", I was in my teens before I realised religion as a whole was optional. My family were never particularly evil about it; it just didn't occur to them to raise me any other way. I still haven't forgiven them, not out of spite, just because they still refuse to consider that they might have done the wrong thing by me and I have a problem with granting forgiveness where there is no remorse.