BBC Bitesize ‘normalising’ hijab for young girls, NSS warns

The BBC is “normalising” very young girls wearing the hijab through its Bitesize platform, the National Secular Society has warned.

The NSS complained to the BBC that the content of its resource on “respect” for Islam and Judaism featured the image of a “very young” girl wearing a hijab (pictured) in what appears to be a classroom.

The NSS argued that, given the girl’s young age, she was unlikely to have made the decision to wear the hijab for herself. It added that as Islamic veiling practices are related to sexual modesty, the image of a young girl in a hijab “promotes the idea that children are required to be sexually modest”.

The NSS said the BBC should “uphold the principle of women and girls’ autonomy”, rather than implicitly approving a practice which runs “totally contrary” to such autonomy.

Responding to the complaint in January, the BBC said the image will “remain unchanged” as “girls as young as Year 5 and Year 6 do sometimes wear a hijab or headscarf”.

Although the age of the girl is not given, the resource is targeted towards Key Stage 1 children aged between five and seven years, or those in Year 1 and Year 2 at school.

The BBC said “senior members” of their education team had asserted that Muslim girls and women, wear the hijab as “a sign of modesty before God”.

It added that, “especially in the West”, women and girls “choose to wear the hijab for a variety of reasons”.

Many from Muslim background consider hijab “child abuse and the sexualisation of children”

The wearing of hijab by young girls is controversial amongst Muslims and those from a Muslim background.

Maryam Namazie, spokesperson for the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain, said: “One can teach tolerance without normalising what many of us from Muslim backgrounds consider child abuse and the sexualisation of children”.

She added: “The BBC’s use of the term ‘choice’ when it comes to child veiling is a questionable one. How does a 5- or 6-year-old make an informed decision that effectively segregates her based on her sex?

“The hijab for a girl means not mixing with boys, not singing or laughing out loud, not dancing, not riding a bike. It teaches her to know ‘her place’ in relation to boys and society at large. Would the BBC defend this position if the child was segregated on racial or political grounds?”

Namazie criticised the resource’s claim that Muslim women “usually wear a hijab” as “far from the truth”. She pointed out that “many” refuse to do so, and that in places like Iran or Afghanistan women “can even be killed for not wearing it”.

NSS: Young girls in hijab a “reflection of rising fundamentalism”

Stephen Evans, chief executive at the National Secular Society, said: “It is alarming to see the BBC normalising hijab for girls of such a young age, and the justification for the use of the image reveals a worrying naivety.

“Misogyny is inherent in modesty codes. Young girls wearing hijab is more a reflection of rising fundamentalism than freedom of choice”.

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