JAN Trust is a multi-award winning charity empowering and providing leadership for women in order to create positive and active citizens of society

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Fake News, Cyberbullying and Extremism: the Downsides of Social Media’s Global Reach

The ability to promote discussion through social media is a critical tool for people and organisations to create much-needed conversations about issues that matter, but aren’t talked about enough, in societies around the world: from young Nigerians promoting dialogue about taboo subjects like domestic abuse to a US non-profit creating a viral hashtag about race and equity in the country’s education system. Many even accredit the Arab Spring as the first ‘Twitter revolution’, as it is widely acknowledged that social media facilitated interaction and communication amongst participants of political protests.

But, despite internet access being a fundamental human right, as declared by the UN in June last year, the internet now represents much more than informing and connecting people. Discussions of major events have shown that, particularly where social media is concerned, the internet also has the power to misinform, divide and even harm people.

News coverage is one example: ‘fake news’ is now often used, by individuals and organisations alike, as a weapon to promote or push back against competing ideologies online. During the 2016 US presidential election, fake news stories were widely published and circulated with ease across all major social media platforms. A survey of teenagers aged 10 to 18 in the US found that 31% had shared a news story online in the last 6 months that they later found out was false. Although the current influence of fake news is entirely unclear, incidences of fake news articles spreading like wildfire across social media platforms has become a common occurrence.
 
Despite the possible benefits of young people now relying more on social media than television as a news source, since coverage and commentary of live events arrive much faster online, the rise of fake news means that genuine solutions for preventing the spread of misinformation on social media are desperately needed. To combat the spread of misinformation on its platform, Facebook announced plans in December to create a fact-checking system, but, nine months on it is not clear whether this has been effective in reducing the scale of fake news circulating on the network.

Other potentially much more harmful drawbacks to the influence of social media may stem from the ability of individuals to present themselves in a different image and thus behave differently online than they would in real life. For example, some use their virtual persona for the purpose of spreading harassment and abuse: 1 in 5 teenagers worldwide have experienced online abuse and more than half of those surveyed say that cyberbullying is worse than being bullied in person. Young people in particular have urged that major social media companies do more to tackle bullying on their sites. Other individuals may use social media to create a persona that they aspire to resemble in real life, often in response to societal expectations about, for instance, body image and career goals being presented on social media as the norm. A survey of young people in the UK found that 35% of girls aged 11-21 are most worried about comparing themselves to others online, and a third of girls are worried about how they look in the photos they post online. As well as having to deal with harassment and societal pressures online, obsession or even addiction to using social media is a genuine issue for many people. Researchers at the University of Chicago suggest that social media addiction can be stronger than addiction to cigarettes and alcohol, and can significantly impact a person’s daily and social life, as well as mental health.

Propaganda which glorifies the Islamic State aims to recruit vulnerable individuals online, in many cases persuading them to travel to Syria, or encouraging them to commit jihad on UK soil. The Home Affairs Committee tells us that in only 1 or 2 % of radicalisation cases had mosques or religious institutions been involved, but that online radicalisation was involved in almost all cases. Extremist content exists all across the internet, from both Islamic extremist sources and far-right extremist groups such as Britain First, whose party page has more Facebook likes than any other UK political party.

To combat the spread of vitriol and extremism, Tech giants Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Microsoft have created a collaborative forum to share best practices and potential solutions, and Google now allows users to report false or offensive information in their search suggestions and boxed-out answers. As for online harassment and cyberbullying, the Crown Prosecution Service will be ordering prosecutors to treat online hate crimes as seriously as they would offences carried out in person. However, many hate crimes go unreported and critics say that social media companies have far done little to curb the spread of abuse on their platforms.

The steps taken by tech companies so far are a good start, but robust action is needed to tackle both the spread of misinformation and the harmfully antisocial side to social media. Vigilance when browsing the internet is key. Our Web Guardians™ programme aims to inform mothers that the internet is an endless source of information, but that it can also be extremely harmful for your child. To find out more about our programme go to www.webguardians.org.

JAN Trust in Press

Zarina was born in Pakistan and came to the UK 23 years ago to join her husband, who already lived here. He was also her cousin. Zarina says there is a long tradition of marrying within the family.Recently the Evening Standard spoke to a forced marriage perpetrator (Pakistani mother) who has forced her daughter from the UK to Pakistani to marry a man against her will. Her daughter was put through mental and physical abuse. We assisted and supported the victim and changed the mind sets of the mother and father. The mother reflects back on what she did and thoroughly regrets her actions. The article is below and can be read here: CLICK HERE

A mother’s tale of regret: I feel devastated that I forced my daughter to marry for ‘honour’...nobody should do it

Tomorrow London hosts the world’s first Girl Summit, aimed at ending FGM and forced marriage. Rosamund Urwin hears one mother’s tale of regret, and of how she finally put her child first.

In 2006, Zarina* and her husband took their 16-year-old daughter to Pakistan. They told her they were going to visit their extended family; their daughter, who grew up in north London, had never been to her ancestral homeland, nor met her grandparents. But in reality, she was being taken there to marry her cousin, the son of Zarina’s brother.

“We fooled her,” Zarina admits. “We thought she should settle down. In the culture in this country, people inter-marry, and it’s quite open [whom you pick as a partner] — I wanted my daughter to escape that. We were worried that she would have boyfriends. So we decided that she should marry in the family, to keep the honour within the family, and to say that she couldn’t challenge us, that she must do what the elders are telling her.”

Zarina has never spoken about this before, and has asked for her identity to be disguised, because she fears reprisals from her community for speaking up. When we meet, she’s wearing the niqab in a colourful and intricate print. She speaks to me through a translator, as her English is limited, but there’s a word I keep hearing: “izzat”, which means “honour” in Urdu.

Zarina was born in Pakistan and came to the UK 23 years ago to join her husband, who already lived here. He was also her cousin. Zarina says there is a long tradition of marrying within the family.

“It’s been going on for centuries — and we didn’t want to break that,” she says. “Because there was a young boy in the family, we wanted to get her settled [married] with him, and then bring him back here. If she had married someone outside the family, there would have been a complete commotion — it would be like breaking the whole family structure.”

When her daughter discovered what was happening, she was devastated. “My daughter was crying constantly,” Zarina recalls. “She was very obstinate that she didn’t want to marry. She said she was brought up in the west and that she can’t marry a man she hasn’t seen, and even if she had seen him, she is not interested.” Her daughter also felt that their backgrounds were too different. “She felt it was a village culture there.”

Zarina admits she assaulted her daughter in order to force her to marry this man. The future in-laws were also physically abusive. “My daughter said this wasn’t her choice, but as soon as she said that we oppressed her by really hitting her and abusing her. We used violence against her, as well as emotional abuse, pressurising her — ‘You must do it’. Our aim was to get her married, come hell or high water. With all this force, the marriage went ahead.”

Zarina’s younger daughter had also travelled to Pakistan and was very disturbed by what was happening.

After the wedding, the family returned to London to make arrangements with immigration officials for the groom to come here. “When we got back, we told [our daughter] that she couldn’t have any friends. She should be isolated so she couldn’t talk or get support from anyone.”

Instead, Zarina’s daughter contacted the JAN Trust, a charity that has worked with immigrant communities for 25 years and campaigns to end forced marriage. “When she got back, she

was very upset and unhappy. But because she was brought up here, she found out through the internet how to get support.”

After the girl approached JAN, Sajda Mughal, the charity’s project director, contacted Zarina. Initially, Zarina was very angry: “We didn’t want anyone to know that this [forced marriage] took place. We were very unhappy about what she had done.”

But Zarina, who also came to the JAN centre, near Alexandra Palace, was eventually won round. The JAN Trust also enlisted the help of an imam, who talked to Zarina and her husband; it is rare for women to get the chance to have a one-on-one discussion with an imam. He explained that forced marriage had nothing to do with Islam, that Zarina and her husband were mistaking tradition for religion.

The discussions — with Zarina and her husband — lasted for more than eight months. Zarina recalls the imam telling her that “forced marriages ruin lives and generations — all on the basis of izzat” and that Mohammed had never said that parents should force their children into marriages: “I have now learned that the children come first, that their happiness comes first, rather than our own aims.” The imam also reinforced the charity’s message that their daughter needed to get a divorce — a “hulla” — and advised them on the steps that had to be taken.

Zarina says she was facing intense pressure from her family in Pakistan: “They said, ‘You have to take our son, he must go and live with you.’ It was a dishonour for them, because it’s a tight-knit community there. When you marry, everyone knows; when there’s a divorce, everyone knows. Everyone was asking them, ‘What happened? What happened?’ They thought it was a disgrace for them. It was all: honour, honour, honour.”

The marriage was eventually made void but, Zarina’s family have been cut off from the rest of their relatives: “The whole circle of the family — uncles, aunts, everybody — has discarded us. They won’t speak to us at all.”

However, their smaller family unit is content again. Zarina’s daughter is now 24 and has just finished studying law: “She’s not talking about marriage at the moment. She’s out of this world happy now.” Her younger sister is also studying, and is relieved that the same fate will not befall her.

Zarina is full of remorse for what happened. “I look back on this time, and I feel devastated that I did this for ‘honour’. I feel very guilty. Nobody should do it. The best thing we did was break  away from this forced marriage — everything else was wrong. Seeing my daughter happy is so wonderful.”

Her husband shares her feelings. “He has changed completely and he really regrets what he did too,” adds Zarina. “He feels like there is nobody above our children when he sees them happy. He says our children come first — before family and before honour.”

She admits, however, that they cannot tell people in their community what happened. “It would be very dangerous if the story got out. People would say, ‘She is divorced’. Our daughter could suffer more — perhaps our family could suffer honour-based violence from the community.”

She is full of praise for the “intense” support of the JAN Trust in combating forced marriage. “Laws have been passed but people are still doing it. We need organ-isations such as the JAN Trust to talk to younger generations and their parents to change mindsets. The way to resolve it is for parents to be educated, and for the younger generation to know their rights. JAN saved my daughter’s life.”

The charity opposed the crim-inalisation of forced marriage because its research suggested it would drive the problem further underground, with victims unwilling to see family members jailed. Does Zarina believe these women and girls would come forward, and risk seeing their parents prosecuted? “No, they would never come forward. No one will say, ‘I am going to be taken,’ because they won’t want their parents in prison.”

The JAN Trust is the only charity in the UK that works with perpetrators. Although men are also forced into marriage, the vast majority (around 90 per cent) of those who contact the JAN Trust are women.

Mughal says: “The only way of getting rid of this practice is to change those mindsets, otherwise we will be chasing our tail. We’d be supporting victims and looking after them, but continually having more victims — year on year, day by day. Why do these victims exist? Because of mindsets that need changing. It’s not going to happen overnight but it’s a drip, drip effect. Eventually we’ll get there.”

Zarina agrees: “The majority of people who carry out these practices are not educated about it. And they are very community-based — they don’t want to open the doors to anyone else. They don’t want to come out of that [way of thinking] — but we did.”

* Zarina’s name has been changed.

For more information about the JAN Trust’s work, go to jantrust.org

JAN Trust in Press

The BBC News quoted our Director, Sajda Mughal OBE following the Prime Ministers annoucement of English language skills and Muslim women. The article can be found here and her comments are below:

Access difficulties

Sajda Mughal, director of the London-based Jan Trust which works to empower vulnerable women, says there is indeed an issue among Muslim women living in the UK who are unable to speak English.

"Currently 200 women come to our centre each week, 80% of which are Muslim. Of these, 70% cannot speak English or are very poor at it. Some have English as a fourth or fifth language. Some are even illiterate in their own language.

"It's heartening to hear the prime minister is providing this language funding but it should trickle down to grass-roots organisations and not just be given to bigger ones like colleges.

"We have large numbers of women who say they have been turned away from colleges because they need very basic lessons and are told the colleges don't provide that level."

Published 18th January 2016

JT featured on the BBC's Inside Out

Our director Sajda Mughal, appeared on the BBC's Inside Out, in their special episode detailing the effects of the recent terrorist attacks in London and Manchester. Sajda explains how grassroots methods, such as JAN Trust's counter extremism course, Web Guardians™, are part of a much needed 'bottom-up approach', that recognises 'that those who are being radicalised are being brainwashed- so we need to change those hearts and change those minds'. She added that we could not 'put reliance on police solely to defeat terrorism, as it will not ultimately change those hearts and minds.'

Watch the piece here.

JT on Sky News

On the anniversary of the 7/7 bombings in London, our CEO Sajda Mughal appeared on Sky News to speak about her experience on that day and about what needs to be done to prevent radicalisation and further attacks focusing our on highly acclaimed Web Guardians™ programme working with and supporting Muslim women and mothers to prevent and tackle radicalisation and online extremism

To view the live news piece, click here.

Meet Jurgita!

Jurgita“I really enjoy it. I would like to do something more with these new skills I have gained – maybe open my own business or get a job.”

This month JAN Trust would like to introduce you to Jurgita. Read her profile below:

Name: Jurgita

Country of origin: Lithuania

Ethnicity: Lithuanian

Jurgita came to the UK nearly 10 years ago. In Lithuania it is common for undergraduate students to take a gap year either before they have completed the final year of their degree or after. Jurgita was studying Civil Engineering, and chose to take her gap year before going into the final year of her studies. She worked for a civil engineering company, but it was her negative experience at the company which led her to come to the UK.

Whilst working at the company in Lithuania she faced gender discrimination, and was not helped to develop her knowledge and skills to prepare her for work in the construction industry. As a result, Jurgita decided not to finish her degree, but instead to come to the UK to improve her English. Before moving to London she lived in Gloucester where she attended college to learn English.

She found out about JAN Trust through her mother’s friend who was doing a fashion course at the centre. Jurgita already knew how to sew having learnt from her mother but she was keen to develop her skills so she enrolled on our accredited Fashion course.

When asked what she would like to do after the course, Jurgita said, “I would like to do something more with these new skills I have gained – maybe open my own business or get a job.”

When asked what she liked about JAN Trust, Jurgita smiled and said, “I like everything here! The staff and other users are very friendly. The staff understand our needs. I really enjoy it. Thank you JAN Trust.”

Meet NoorJahan!

“I want to learn something -I want to get out of my home. Every type of people are here, every culture, every religion, you come to know everything.”

Once a month, JAN Trust will be featuring one of the many women who utilise our training, services and projects on our blog. This week we introduce you to NoorJahan! Read her profile below:

Name:NoorJahan

Country of origin:Pakistan

Ethnicity:Pakistani / Italian

NoorJahan came to the UK with her children nearly 30 years ago, joining her husband who had arrived one year earlier. Before she came, she had stayed with her family in Italy for a while. In the UK, she was kept busy looking after her home and raising her children.

NoorJahan first heard about JAN Trust through a friend who was attending English classes at the centre. When her friend told her about other classes and services that JAN Trust offers NoorJahan was keen on developing her ICT skills and working towards a certificate. “I use a lot from what I learnt on the course” NoorJahan told JAN Trust.

Currently, NoorJahan is studying with us for a City and Guilds accredited Fashion course. She first learned to sew from her mother but wanted to formalise her skills, and gain a qualification. She loves the course!

When asked why she had decided to come to JAN Trust and what she enjoyed about coming to the centre NoorJahan told us “I want to learn something … I want to get out of my home.” Coming to the centre helps her to feel less stressed and depressed. “I talk to everyone. Everyone likes me!” She told us that she is very happy to have the opportunity to meet women from different cultures and backgrounds here. “Every type of women are here, every culture, every religion, you come to know everything.”

NoorJahan had a lot of praise for Director Sajda Mughal OBE and her teachers. “They help me more, explaining everything. Sajda is helpful. The teachers are very nice.”

November 2016: Web Guardians© goes from strength to strength

It’s Autumn 2016 and here at the JAN Trust we’re excited to say that, 6 years on from its inception, our Web Guardians© programme is stronger than ever. 2016 has been a challenging year for those working to fight hatred, division and extremist beliefs and it’s easy to feel disheartened in the face of the threat of online radicalisation and terror. Yet it’s this very work, promoting cohesion and strengthening communities, which spurs our staff team on and fosters our optimism in the belief that, slowly, things can change.

This week we’ve been in one part of the UK training mothers and grandmothers who’ve never even turned an internet device on. Once the first few teething problems were out of the way, the women were well on their way in using the computers and learning strategies to safeguard their children online!

Here’s what a couple of them said…

- “My son is 11 but he is more of a computer expert than me or my husband”
- “This is why we’re here – to keep up to date!”
- “I’m here because I need to learn how to keep my kids safe online!”

We’re excited at the prospect of the next few weeks, where we’ll be supporting and assisting the women to gain new skills and the confidence to protect their children when they are online. Watch out Mark Zuckerberg, the Web Guardians mums are out to steal your thunder!

OBE Investiture

Our Founder, Rafaat Mughal, was awarded with her OBE on Tuesday 4th March 2014 at Buckingham Palace by Prince William, Duke of Cambridge. She received her OBE due to her work towards disadvantaged women. We are very proud of her!

This award was covered by press including the Haringey Independent and the Haringey Advertiser. To view the Haringey Independent article: CLICK HERE

Released Tuesday 11th March 2014

Rafaat Mughal, founder of the JAN Trust in Wood Green, receives OBE from Prince William

A women’s rights activist who received an OBE in the Queen’s New Years honours list received her medal from Prince William.

Rafaat Mughal, founder of the JAN Trust in Wood Green, was honoured for her work empowering women from disadvantaged backgrounds.

On Tuesday, March 4, the Duke of Cambridge presented her with the prize at Buckingham Palace.

Mrs Mughal said: “I was absolutely delighted to receive the OBE and the event in Buckingham Place was really good and very well organised as you’d expect.

“Prince William asked me what our organisation is doing and I told him briefly what we are about.

“He was very happy to hear about it and told me to keep up the good work.”

Mrs Mughal started the trust in 1989 and has since helped thousands of women across London to become independent, active members of society.

She said: “I told Prince William that we have helped more than 50,000 women in the past 25 years by helping them learn English, understand the British system so they take part in society and not feel isolated.

Mrs Mughal added: “I do this work because it is in me and a part of who I am.

“I feel very thrilled with all I have accomplished and it’s been great to be recognised by Buckingham Palace but I think it’s even better to hear it from my children.

“My children told me 'mum we are really proud of you' and I just burst into tears.”

As well as founding the charity, Mrs Mughal also lectures on the Middle East, east Africa and Europe, and previously worked as a researcher on issues affecting ethnic minorities.

She was also one of the first Muslim women to be elected as a councillor in Haringey.

Mrs Mughal was invited to 10 Downing Street by then Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and was also runner-up for the Lifetime Achievement Award 2012 in the Directory of Social Change Awards.

Press coverage - Mirror

The Mirror published a piece on our Director's 7/7 near death experience and the tireless work she has been carrying out since then with grass roots communities. The article can be found here as well as below:

I survived the 7/7 bombings and now I work to stop young people being drawn into extremism

That tube shouldn’t have been my tube, but I was running late. I worked in investment banking and I did that journey on the Piccadilly line every single day.

My routine was, without fail, to get on the first carriage. But that day I got on in the middle of the train. Had I got on my usual carriage, I may not be here today – that was the one Germaine Lindsay blew up with his bomb.

That fateful day

It was rush hour so the train was packed. It left Kings Cross and 10 seconds into the tunnel, it happened. A massive explosion, the biggest bang I’ve ever heard.

The whole train shook, everyone fell forward, it went dark and the emergency lights kicked in. Smoke started to fill the carriage and it was hard to breathe, so I took my jacket off to make a veil. People were screaming and trying to break the glass to escape but I was just frozen in shock.

It didn’t even cross my mind that it might be a bomb. I thought we’d derailed and my mind was racing, thinking, "Another train is going to crash into us and there’ll be a fireball and we’re going to burn to death".

I was preparing myself to die. My thoughts went to growing up, my family, my life was flashing in front of my eyes. I hadn’t said goodbye to my loved ones, I hadn’t got married, had children or travelled the world.

We were down there 40 minutes, but it felt like a lifetime. Eventually I heard the distant voice of a policeman saying, "We’re coming to get you". 

My heart had felt as if it was being strangled with a tight rope, and straight away the rope loosened. The police got us out of the carriage and escorted us down the tunnel and out of the station. It felt eerie. 

The emergency services were attending to the seriously injured, so the rest of us were left to our own devices. There were crowds everywhere and I remember thinking, "What the hell are you staring at?" I went across the road to McDonald’s, ran into the toilets and broke down.

I looked in the mirror and I was black from the smoke. I cleaned myself up and tried to call my mum, but the phone lines were down. There was no transport so I had to walk home to Haringey, in North London. 

I ran into my house, locked the door, closed the curtains and curled up on the sofa, waiting for my family to come and console me. I couldn’t turn on the news until the evening, and that’s when I found out it was a bomb.

It shook me, and knowing it was Muslim men shook me further. Being a Muslim, I know it clearly states in the Quran that if you take one innocent life, it’s as though you have taken the whole of humanity. What they did does not represent Islam.

I had to be signed off work, I couldn’t travel on the tube. I needed counselling, and a lot of family support got me through. When I went back to work six months later I was like a robot – my heart and mind were somewhere else. 

I had questions. Why would anyone do this? What could have been done to prevent it? What about the parents of the bombers? They gave birth to them, they wanted the best for them, they would not have wanted their children to take innocent lives. That’s when my life changed.

Making a difference

Not only did I decide to get married and have children – I now have two daughters, aged six and two – I turned my back on my career. I could have continued working my way up and earned lots of money, but I wasn’t happy. I wanted to make a difference. 

I started working with a charity called the JAN Trust, which helps marginalised, vulnerable women to lead more independent lives. I came on board to make a difference on the issue of extremism, working with mothers of young Muslims. 

Some of these women have never switched on a computer, so we teach them to go online and expose them to the issues of radicalisation. A lot of them don’t speak English and will often only be watching TV from their own country, so they can be unaware – during one session, we found that, around the time of the beheadings, only 4% of the women knew who ISIS were.

It’s so important to educate those who can make a difference. We give them the skills to challenge their children’s grievances in a positive way, so, let’s say they’re angry about the air strikes, how do they get their voices heard in a democratic way? 

We also work with schools. I’ve met students who sympathise with the 7/7 bombers. I told them my story, and put it into perspective – I could have been their sister, it was an indiscriminate attack against everyone, not just non-Muslims. We work with teachers too, as they have a duty to report radicalisation, and they’re feeling overwhelmed and ill-equipped to deal with it.

Often what causes young people to be radicalised is challenging their grievances in the wrong way, but there are also the issues of alienation and high unemployment among young Muslims. The rise of Islamaphobia feeds into radicalisation too. They’re manipulated through chat rooms and social media.

Everything that’s happened since 7/7, such as the Paris attacks and the American shootings, is disheartening and worrying, but we’re making a difference on a grass-roots level. Changing one person’s mind can be enough to stop an act of terrorism.

The effects of what happened to me are still with me. I have to get on the tube for meetings, but I couldn’t do it day to day, and on the tenth anniversary, my husband told me I was screaming about the tube in my sleep. 

I think about it every day. But everything happened for a reason and that day turned my life around. It strengthened my faith because it felt like an attack on Islam, thanks to the knock-on effect of Islamaphobia.

I’ve had death threats, my property vandalised, been told, "I’m going to slit your Muslim throat". I’ve feared for my life and my family want me to take a step back, but then they’ve won. They’re trying to break me down but I’m never, ever going to let that happen.

● 700 people were injured and 56, including the four terrorists, died in the 7/7 bombings. Germaine Lindsay killed 26 of them on the train Sajda was travelling on in Kings Cross. It was the deadliest single act of terrorism in the UK since the Lockerbie bombing, and the deadliest bombing in London since World War Two.

● The JAN Trust is an award-winning women’s charity providing support and assistance to vulnerable, marginalised women across the UK. Their services range from raising awareness and preventing violence against women and girls through to developing skills for empowerment and integration.

● In a study, 92% of the Muslim mothers JAN worked with had no understanding of what radicalisation is, according to research conducted by the JAN Trust’s Web Guardians(c) programme.

● In the last three years there has been a 65% increase in the number of Muslim women reporting Islamophobic incidents. The day after the Paris attacks, the JAN Trust received 15 reports of Islamophobia within an hour from Muslim women. The youngest victim of Islamophobia supported by the JAN Trust has been a seven-year-old girl.

To support JAN Trust, visit jantrust.org

Published 17th January 2016

The Growing Problem of Knife Crime in London

As a London-based charity, JAN Trust has been shocked to witness the dramatic rise in knife crime that has occurred across the capital in the past year. To date, 9 people have been killed in the capital in 2017 and nationally knife crime is at the highest levels since 2011.

And this is without even considering the hundreds of people injured in such attacks. In the 12 months until March this year, this figure was 2028. In Kings College Hospital in London, one surgeon notes that 25% of the trauma injuries they see are directly related to knife crime.

While this is an issue across the country, Met office figures show that in the past year in London gun and knife crime have both risen particularly sharply – by 42% and 24% respectively.

Metropolitan police report released last month indicated that between 2014 and 2016 the number of children carrying knives in London schools rose by almost 50%, while the number of knife offences in London schools rose by 26%.

This is a devastating situation that clearly cannot be ignored.

Far from an issue which has suddenly appeared in the last year, this has been a growing problem for many years because of funding cuts, both to police services and youth facilities.

Many have noted that this tragic situation in which so many young people have lost their lives has been the direct result of funding cuts to the police system. In London, the estimated effect on the Met’s annual £3bn budget ranges from a £100m to £700m reduction.

London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, has said he would fight any further cuts but clearly this is only part of the solution.

Until now, prevention has largely focussed on short-term measures such as limiting the sale of knives to young people, controversial stop and search policies, or punitive sentencing in the aftermath of attacks.

Recently, the father of murdered schoolboy Damilola Taylor has called for an increase in stop and search to prevent knife crimes, and there have even been suggestions of the introduction of metal detectors at school entrances to prevent students from bringing in knives.

However, the murder of a 23-year old man on Tuesday – making 7 knife-crime related deaths in the space of a week – has prompted the MET to take a different approach.

On Wednesday, Scotland Yard announced the creation of Operation Sceptre which will a task force of 80 specialists but also, crucially, a focus on prevention work in schools.

Finally it has been accepted that limited short-term measures are not enough. There needs to be a more holistic approach.

Detective Chief Superintendent Michael Gallagher has said that, “Strategies focused upon particular offences should be complemented by…. broader long-term initiatives against poverty and social exclusion…with messages which are delivered by communities”.

This community-based approach is a measure that JAN Trust wholeheartedly welcomes. With funding we have devised and delivered programmes to mothers and young people raising awareness and tackling knife crime, gun and gang-related violence.

Initiatives such as ours are clearly ones that need supporting and we welcome the MET’s plans to take a more community-based holistic approach to tackle this tragic problem.

Visit our website at http://www.jantrust.org to find out more about the work we do.

Vulnerable Minds: How Daesh is Recruiting Iraqi Children and Targeting British Teenagers

As Iraqi forces’ liberation of Mosul continues, attention is increasingly focusing on what Daesh will do next.
 
It’s feared their leaders, members and sympathisers will ramp up their sinister efforts to target our young people here in Europe, calling for so-called ‘lone wolf’ attacks on home soil, prompting calls for us all to remain vigilant when it comes to protecting our children online.
 
One of Daesh’s most horrifying future strategies is the indoctrination and training of a new generation of fighters. As Daesh’s failed ‘caliphate’ collapses, hoards of fighters have been deserting the ranks – if they haven’t already been killed in combat or suicide attacks. Now, Daesh is preying on the most vulnerable and malleable minds: those of Iraqi and Syrian children.
 
The Independent recently published letters from young radicalised recruits to their parents, discovered at abandoned Daesh hideouts in eastern Mosul. They make for heart-wrenching reading.
 
One, written by Iraqi schoolboy Alaa Abd al-Akeedi, says: “My dear family, please forgive me. Don't be sad and don't wear the black clothes [of mourning]. I asked to get married and you did not marry me off. So, by God, I will marry the 72 virgins in paradise.” He was killed by his suicide vest shortly after. It’s thought he was just 16 years old.
 
The news agency Reuters has managed to gain access to relatives of the teenagers who left the notes.
 
Family members tell a story of innocence; of vulnerable, fragile minds being targeted and then indoctrinated. A man reveals that his teenage relative, who was recruited by Daesh and killed in a suicide attack, had been overweight and insecure and joined the jihadists after his father's death. He told Reuters: “His mind was fragile and they took advantage of that, promising him virgins and lecturing him about being a good Muslim. If someone had tempted him with drugs and alcohol, he probably would have done that instead.”
 
It is this last statement that hits home. As parents, we all understand the worry that our children will hang out in the ‘wrong crowd’ and get into drugs. Young minds are open to influence and eager to try new things – to ‘grow up’. It can be as easy as that.
 
In Iraq and Syria, young people may not be exposed to violence in the same format that our children are in the UK. Despite our efforts to shelter or protect them, our kids consume film, TV, online and video game violence to a point of such desensitisation that it is normalised. They witness the violence occurring in places like Syria and Iraq through their screens.
 
Syrian and Iraqi children on the other hand are directly witnessing violence on the streets in the most gruesome and horrific ways. Some have even been exposed to it under the regime of Daesh as the terrorist group took control of their neighbourhoods, yet even they are vulnerable to radicalisation.
 
Violence is glamourised in action films and video games in the virtual world British children often live in. The brutal realities of extreme violence are all too real for many Iraqi and Syrian children.
 
Some may be more susceptible to radicalisation than others. But all are vulnerable.
 
Phone apps and the Internet make it simple for a direct line to be formed between a Daesh militant in Iraq and our children here in the UK. Daesh knows that our young people are excited by video game violence, by the idea of handling a rifle and fighting an enemy.
 
Considering all of this, we must educate ourselves about the dangers and threats are children face and ensure lines of communication are open between us as parents and our children to protect them and prevent radicalisation.
 
At JAN Trust, we aim to help mothers who fear for their children’s safety online with our Web Guardians© project.
 
Many families have been destroyed by Daesh. JAN Trust is helping in the struggle against home-grown radicalisation so that more families do not have to suffer this same fate.
 
If you are interested in finding out more about Web Guardians© go to http://jantrust.org/projects/web-guardians

‘The rain begins with a single drop’ – Does the end of the driving ban mark a shift in consciousness for Saudi Arabia?

Last week, King Salman announced through royal decree that the long-standing ban prohibiting women from driving in Saudi Arabia will be lifted by 24th June 2018. Saudi Arabia is currently the only country in the world where women cannot legally drive; a law which has received widespread condemnation and has become a signifier across the globe of the country’s strict patriarchal regime.

The news of the ban being lifted has been much anticipated and celebrated, especially by the brave activists who have been fighting tirelessly for years to change the law; jeopardising their own freedoms in the process. One such activist, Manal al-Sharif, who galvanised the women’s right to drive campaign after being detained for filming herself behind the wheel, made an emotional statement on social media:

"You want a statement here is one: "Saudi Arabia will never be the same again. The rain begins with a single drop" "

There is no doubt that this decree is a huge step forward for women’s rights in the notoriously conservative region and it has been deeply moving to witness the outpouring of joy and a brief moment of respite across social media. Activists are now witnessing the culmination of their efforts over the years and the foundation for change is starting to emerge. However, the attitudes which have given rise to and emanate from the system cannot change overnight and whether this ruling marks a monumental shift in the consciousness of the Saudi Arabia is still murky territory.

For those who uphold the conservative values of the state and its strict interpretation of religious doctrine, the lifting of the driving ban has been met with resistance. On the eve of the landmark announcement, one of the top trending hashtags on Saudi Arabia’s twitter feed was “The women of my house won’t drive.” This unfortunately demonstrates that there is a lot of work to be done to change people’s hearts and minds, which the lifting of a law can’t immediately solve.

This outlook is also characterised by the continued enforcement of the kingdom’s male guardianship system; a binding set of regulations which prevent women from being able to truly govern their own lives. In this way, women are obligated to gain the permission of a male guardian in order to study or travel outside the country, start their own business, get married or even leave prison. There has been no official comment as of yet from Saudi officials as to whether the lifting of the driving ban marks the start of a U-Turn on these types of policies, which dominate the daily lives of Saudi women. However, Saudi Ambassador Prince Khalid bin Salman, has stated the new driving procedures will ensure that women will be able to drive alone and apply for their licenses without gaining permission from their male guardians.

Although the practicalities of the implementation of this ruling will be discussed by a new specialised committee in the next 30 days, this detail, if true, has the potential to be hugely significant. If this comes to fruition, it would mark a loosening of a facet of guardianship legislation; setting a precedent which holds a mirror up to the guardianship system itself. The inconsistency of allowing women to drive without a male guardian, but still needing the permission of a guardian to travel or start a business is stark. The example set by this ruling sparks hope that it will act as a catalyst for the undermining of the guardianship system altogether.

Moreover, the recent news of a mixed audience being permitted to celebrate in the national stadium, and the proposal of new legislation criminalising sexual harassment, spells promising change for the kingdom. Equality for the women of Saudi Arabia feels like it is inching closer, but it is not a given. At JAN Trust we believe it is possible to celebrate these victories yet still acknowledge that there is much work to be done to ensure that societal attitudes are changed and that women’s rights are fully enshrined in law. For those of us witnessing this moment in history, it is vital to not get complacent and continue to support and fight for the rights of women in the UK, Saudi Arabia and around the world.

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