On Sunday, an 11-year-old Muslim boy in Warwickshire, UK, was investigated by the police after his teachers referred him to the government’s counter-radicalisation ‘Prevent’ programme. According to the boy’s family, he had been asked what he would do if in possession of a lot of money, and replied he would “give alms to the oppressed.” The teacher interpreted this as “give arms to the oppressed” and reported the student to the authorities.
The boy’s parents are taking legal action against the school, accusing it of stereotyping based on race and religion. They are asking for a written apology, payment of damages and for the referral to be removed from the boy’s permanent record.
Though the case was swiftly dismissed, the boy’s parents, who spoke to The Guardian on the matter, said their family was left distressed. They fear that the referral, despite being closed, will remain on his permanent record, and passed down to the grammar school he is set to attend in September.
The family’s lawyer, Attiq Malik of Liberty Law Solicitors, has called for the Prevent programme to be scrapped, reported The Guardian.
What is UK’s Prevent programme
According to a Financial Times report, the Prevent programme was launched in 2003 and scaled up after the 7/7 London bombings of 2005, in which 52 people were killed. The report notes that the government has claimed 1,200 people were successfully “diverted from extremism” due to the programme as of 2019.
Under the programme, if a tip-off is deemed to merit a formal referral, it triggers a review process to decide the best course of intervention. Minor cases are resolved through means like parenting support, whereas cases thought to pose a significant threat of extremism are escalated to the most intensive level of Prevent, known as Channel.
The Prevent programme has faced criticism before this too. Speaking to The Guardian, Dr Layla Aitlhadj, director of Prevent Watch, said: “Prevent injects suspicion and discrimination deep into the imagination of frontline workers to the detriment of Muslims.”
In the past, children have been referred to Prevent over similar misunderstandings. Notably, a nursery worker once referred a child after the four-year-old drew a picture of his father with a cucumber, which the teacher thought was a cooker bomb.