1 Nov 2010

New guidance is being published urging UK schools to identify signs of forced marriages

BBC News - July 2, 2009

Forced marriage plea to schools

By Dominic Casciani | BBC News

New guidance is being published urging schools to identify signs of forced marriages ahead of the holidays.

The guidance comes as an official report raises questions about how some schools and councils have failed to act on suspicions or evidence of abuse.

The report calls on schools to play a greater preventative role, saying some are clearly reluctant to get involved.

The government's Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) says it has received 770 calls for help this year - up 16% on 2008.

Experts say the coming month will be critical because there is growing evidence that abusive families use the school summer holidays to coerce daughters and sons to marry abroad.

The new guidance published by the FMU urges teachers to be aware of signs of a possible forced marriage because school or college is often the only place where the potential victim can speak freely.

The document also provides guidance to doctors, police, social workers and other community workers.

Foreign Office minister Chris Bryant told the BBC that professionals needed to have their "eyes wide open".

"There are key times of the year, particularly if an elder sibling has married very young or suddenly left school, if a youngster is self-harming or if they are constantly being accompanied by parents, even to a doctor's surgery," he told Radio 4's Today programme. "These may be clear signs that there is a problem."

"I should make it absolutely clear there is no culture and there is no religion in which forced marriage should be acceptable or indeed is acceptable," he added.

"I know there are maybe some people who think this is an issue about Islam - it's not. Islam does not recommend or accept forced marriage. Marriage in every religion has to be freely and openly consented to."

Schools criticised

However, according to separate research for the government, also published on Thursday, some local bodies are not doing enough to intervene.

The report for the Department for Children, Schools and Families details criticisms of some schools and education authorities.

Critics say some are "non-responsive" and failing to intervene as they dismiss forced marriage as a "cultural issue" or fear a backlash from powerful figures in minority communities.

"In all areas we noted a variation among key partners in the importance they attached to responding to forced marriage," says the report.

"One respondent talked about how it was precisely those cases of children [going missing from education] that showed the signs of forced marriage that were less likely to be followed up in schools as this was seen as an issue specific to the culture of the child."

Jasvinder Sanghera of Karma Nirvana, a national campaign group against forced marriages, urged public sector workers, and particularly teachers, to act on suspicions.

"This is not something you must be culturally sensitive about," she said. "This is a child abuse issue, and you must treat it in that way and follow your child protection procedures. Do not turn a blind eye".

The Forced Marriage Unit, run jointly by the Home Office and Foreign Office, received 1,600 reports last year - and intervened in 420 actual cases.

Overall, there are estimated to be at least 5,000 cases of forced marriage, but it is impossible to know for certain.

In some cases, a specialist British team launched secret rescue missions to repatriate victims held captive by their families abroad.

The courts have also made 36 forced marriage prevention orders, a recently created power designed to prevent people being taken abroad against their will.

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770 calls Jan - June 09

Up 16% on same period of 2008

1,600 calls last year

Courts can intervene to protect victims

Special British team launches rescues in south Asia

London Helpline: (International UK Code 44) (0)20 7...

Update on Thursday, July 2, 2009
BBC News 

'Punished for shaming my family'

The government's Forced Marriage Unit says it has received 770 calls for help so far this year - up 16% on 2008. One woman who was a victim of this crime has told her story to Adam Pasternicki, politics reporter for the BBC Asian Network.

She is a British citizen but was brought up in South Asia, where her story starts off.

My story began at childhood. In my culture, in my family, girls were not accepted. We weren't allowed to mix with the men in the family.

I was open-minded and very different from the family.

I was very good academically as well as at swimming. I was in my national swimming team. I was given a scholarship to the United States and my father refused.

He didn't want me to be swimming half-naked in front of crowds as a teenager. It was something I had been looking forward to.

I became rebellious. I fell in love with somebody who was a Christian and we got married without the family's consent.

Ten days after the marriage, my father had us arrested on false charges. We were taken to the local police station, by men I believe were impersonating police officers. I was then taken across the country under sedation. I was locked up in a house in unfamiliar surroundings.

They acquired my passport and flew me off to India. When we got there, I was locked up and monitored 24 hours a day.

Two years later, I was forced to marry a man I met on my wedding day. My family thought this was the punishment for shaming them.


I came to the United Kingdom and sponsored him. He was an alcoholic and physically abusive. I had two children with him. My family wanted me to show I was respectable.

One night he really physically beat me up and raped me. I conceived as a result of that. I decided to go for a termination, as I couldn't have handled it.

That experience gave me the strength to start working. A few staff members saw me coming into work tearful. One of the staff asked me what was happening. I told her I was not happy in my circumstances. She told me to get help.

The first thing I did was go to my doctor and she put me in contact with domestic violence services in the area.

A few days later, it just so happened that my husband wanted to take the children to India. That was the trigger that finally made me walk out of the marriage. We started divorce proceedings.

For the first year of my separation things were going well until I had a mental breakdown.

I felt so isolated. I ended up in a mental unit, and had to consent to my husband having custody of the children, which was supposed to be temporary.

Social services thought I was being a selfish mother and wanted to throw my children away.

It took me a lot of strength to fight. My breakthrough came when he threatened to kill me. I made a statement to police and they thought a lot of criminal activity had taken place.

After everything, I got custody of my children in April last year.

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