Glad to have been sheltered

Observations on an Asian upbringing

I never got the chance to be the foolish, rebellious teenager that I knew I was capable of being. Don't worry about boyfriends, my mother told me - because she and my aunt would find me a good husband when the time came.

I resented the chaste, geeky existence that my Asian parents imposed on me. In my first year at secondary school, I listened enviously as my 11- and 12-year-old English classmates recounted their sexual exploits. (By the end of the first year, two girls had already left, due to pregnancy.) I lived in fear of going home with low grades. I was condemned to homework, early nights and no television after 9pm. If I went out with my friends, I had to go in the afternoons rather than the evenings. I didn't go to nightclubs until I was 17, and even then my parents not only had to know who was bringing me home, but stayed up until they heard my key open the front door.

Now, after watching Edge of the City, the much-talked-about Channel 4 documentary about life on Bradford's social periphery, I find myself thanking my parents for their zealous concern. The programme showed Asian men grooming white girls aged between 11 and 13 for sex, prostitution and drug-dealing. It showed two mothers looking for daughters who disappear every night to have sex with adult men. They described how the girls would be picked up outside school and be given drugs, alcohol and mobile phones that would ring after 11pm to summon them for a night parked on the moors.

Men being what some men are, I didn't find the grooming very surprising. What did amaze me was why these supposedly "concerned" mothers had allowed their daughters to go out at midnight. Despite interviews with white police officers and social workers, nobody involved in the programme, not even the film-makers, addressed the issue of parental responsibility. Had these mothers ever warned their children not to get into cars with strange men offering sweeties? Had they never thought of calling the police when they saw their daughters talking to a pimp outside their own homes? "My daughter needs protecting," declared one mother. Why did nobody in the film suggest that protection of her child was her job?

I would rather have the most traditional of Asian parents than a mother like that.

This article first appeared in the 06 September 2004 issue of the New Statesman, The happiness industry