Schools to look for signs of forced marriage

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New guidelines have been issued urging teachers to be vigil for tell-tale signs of pupils being forced into arranged marriages.

Foreign Office minister Chris Bryant said every school should now be looking at the issue ahead of the summer break, thought to be a peak time for incidents of young people, usually girls, and forced by their families to marry.

Meanwhile, police battling to protect people from being forced into marriage are turning to new orders to save youngsters from being taken out of the country.

The Forced Marriage Unit, a joint body of the Foreign Office and Home Office, has already received 770 calls or emails to its helpline about suspected forced marriages so far this year – an increase of 16 per cent in the same period last year. Cases of forced marriage dealt with by the Forced Marriage Unit have almost trebled since 2005, from 152 cases to 420 last year as more people come forward to seek help. However the true scale of the problem remains unclear. The very nature of forced marriage means that it is likely that a number of cases go unreported.

The FMU is preparing for its busiest time of year as young people raise concerns with teachers before the school summer holidays.

These new figures coincide with the publication of new guidelines to front line professionals to help them work more closely together to better identify and protect children and adults at risk of forced marriage. The new guidelines for police, teachers, social and health professionals and housing officers, which were developed by the FMU in collaboration with other Government departments and the Welsh Assembly Government, aim to ensure that victims are identified and protected against the people intent on abusing them.

FCO Minister for Consular Affairs Chris Bryant, said: ”Nobody should be forced into marriage against their will or without their free and open consent. It is depressing that this practise does still continue, for whatever reason, and as a Government we are determined to do everything we can to put a stop to it and to protect the vulnerable. There is no culture in which this is acceptable in a modern world.”

Home Office Minister Alan Campbell, said: "These guidelines offer clear, step by step guidance to front line professionals about what to do when dealing with suspected cases of forced marriage. By working together we can ensure that all victims of forced marriage receive sympathetic, effective and joined up support and also challenge the culture of acceptance."

DCSF Minister for Young People and Families, Delyth Morgan said: “All children have the right to grow up safe from harm. As the end of the school year nears it’s vital that we get the message out that forced marriage is totally unacceptable and where children are subjected to this practice, the impact on their education and their future is devastating.”

Latest 2009 figures show that the majority of reportings to the FMU involve families of Pakistani (70 per cent), and Bangladeshi (11 per cent) origin, with smaller percentages of those of Indian, Middle Eastern, European and African origin. Victims in 14 per cent of cases are male, 33% of all assistance cases are under 18 and 14% are under 16 years of age.

Newly published Government research, Forced Marriage – Prevalence and Service Response, looks at the prevalence of and responses to forced marriage. It shows that although there are examples of good practice, local agencies need to get better at working together to identify and prevent forced marriage. The findings of the report have helped to inform the new guidelines.

The Forced Marriage Protection Orders allow police to serve banning orders on families under threat of prison and seize the passports of people they fear may be whisked abroad and married off against their will.

Fewer than 30 orders have been secured across the whole country.

The issue of forced marriages is often linked to honour crimes. In 2003, Bride-to-be Sahjda Bibi, 21, was stabbed to death on her wedding day in Alum Rock by cousin Rafaquat Hussain, because he disapproved of her choice of husband.

Hussain, then 38, was later jailed for life after pleading guilty to murder. A second cousin was also jailed for life.

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