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Too Young to Veil?

An investigation into the growing number of very young girls wearing the hijab in the UK. What's at the root of it and why has it rattled the education system?

This year, St. Stephen's primary school in east London found itself at the centre of an incendiary and increasingly far-reaching debate that is rocking not only Muslim communities and campaigners across the UK but also penetrates the very heart of the country's education system.

An attempt to ban girls under the age of 8 from wearing the hijab to school resulted in a major backlash from the local community and beyond. Over 19, 000 people signed a petition to reverse the ban, a national campaign group got involved and social media was awash with outrage, some comparing the head teacher to 'Hitler' and branding her a 'paedophile'. The ban was swiftly reversed.

What is really at the root of the outrage given that Islam does not require children to cover their heads? And what is motivating the trend for younger girls -some as young as four- to wear the hijab, when previous generations would not have veiled so young?

Female Muslim campaigners have warned that it should be fiercely rejected' as it ‘sexualises' young girls. Ofsted has voiced concern and is investigating whether teachers have come under pressure from religious groups to change uniform regulation. Others argue it is simply a case of girls copying their mums and suggesting otherwise is a form of Islamophobia.

In all the noise between parents, teachers, religious leaders, campaigners and authorities, who - if anyone - has the right to decide what a young girl puts on her head?

Producers: Lucy Proctor and Sarah Stolarz

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37 minutes

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