A Muslim teenage girl has been removed from her New Zealand home after authorities discovered she was being severely beaten by relatives who made her wear a burqa to cover up her injuries.
Police in the Auckland area believe the unidentified girl, 15, suffered a broken nose, damaged teeth, and other injuries at the hands of at least one family member over several months, according to a report in the New Zealand Herald. Members of the family’s Muslim community allegedly knew about the abuse and helped conceal it.
After enduring the facial injuries, police say the girl was kept home from school. A friend who was anxious about the girl’s absence asked around the community and learned of the abuse, prompting her to call police.
"The case was brought to police attention when a school friend of the girl was made aware of the abuse and was able to borrow a cell phone from another child at a neighboring school to call 111(911)," child protection officer Detective Sarah Boniface told the Herald.
"The girl was not able to get access to a phone herself," Boniface said.
When officers visited the victim’s home in November, she was allegedly told by family members to cover up with a burqa, leaving only her eyes exposed. The girl usually only wore a head scarf.
Police believe that family members were instructed to lie to investigators about the abuse, and felt their own safety threatened.
"At this stage it is clear that a number of members of the community were aware of the extent of the abuse and did not seek medical assistance for her injuries or alert authorities,” Boniface said. "This included people who were in positions of trust and who should have been relied upon to provide help."
Child, Youth and Family services removed the girl from her home and placed her in "secure care" with another Muslim family.
No charges have been filed yet, although police say arrests are likely.
"Maybe the family members were trying to hide it, but I don't think the community would condone anything like that,” said Javed Khan, acting president of the Federation of the Islamic Associations of New Zealand.
“We are subject to the laws of the country and follow the laws of New Zealand. Anything like that is not accepted here. It has nothing to do with Islam or the religion. It's more to do with a cultural thing ... It could just be the family," he said.
Police Detective Jim Gallagher praised the bravery of the school friend who called police. "When you know about a child that possibly could be at risk, then that warrants you making it your business. If you do nothing, then no one will ever know. It's a child's life you're gambling with if you don't report it."