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Preventing Forced Marriages: It’s An Education Issue

Preventing Forced Marriages: It’s An Education Issue


British Prime Minister David Cameron recently suggested that in order to combat forced marriages, where young girls are married off against their will, he would be inclined to specifically criminalize the practice. However, one leading charity has said that blanket criminalization may be ineffective and what is in fact needed is more support for teachers who are uniquely placed to be able to intervene if they suspect a child is at risk.

Last year the British Government’s Forced Marriage Unit dealt with 1735 cases — and that number only represents the cases that the government was able to document. The figure is likely much greater if one factors in the number of women who are thought to have been at risk who have subsequently gone missing.

Indeed, a recent report on the issue suggests that there may in fact be between 5,000 to 8,000 cases of forced marriage in the U.K. every year.

From the Guardian:

The estimate is contained in the official consultation paper published on Monday on whether making forced marriage a specific criminal offence will help better protect victims.

David Cameron has already signalled that he wants to strengthen the law against forced marriage by making it a criminal offence to breach a civil forced marriage protection order, but ministers are considering going further by making it a separate criminal offence.

The home secretary, Theresa May, said: “Marriage should be one of the happiest events in a person’s life, but shockingly thousands of people a year are forced into marriage against their will.

“It is an appalling form of abuse and perceived cultural sensitivities should not stop us doing more to tackle it.”

She said the Home Office wanted to hear from victims of forced marriages and from charities and others supporting them on whether a specific new criminal offence would help or hinder.

However, charity Plan B is concerned that specific criminalization, without further action, may in fact have a chilling effect because it could discourage vulnerable girls from speaking out in case their families subsequently abandon them. There is also the issue of whether criminalization would in fact lead to more young women being taken out of the country in order to be forced into a marriage.

Writes Marie Staunton, Chief Executive of Plan UK, on the Plan UK blog:

My worry is that by simply criminalising forced marriage the government will think their job is done. Legislative activity, the criminalisation of forced marriage by itself does not result in action or prevention. How do we ensure a stronger focus on prevention — when too often the topic is deemed too sensitive to raise in schools or communities?

Prevention requires strong laws yes, but that is not enough. It requires awareness of those laws. It requires strong peer pressures from within the community and strong political leadership. This government has shown great political leadership at CHOGM where the Prime Minister pressed for a commitment by all Commonwealth countries to end early forced marriage — and got it! He needs to be backed here in the UK by the Education department, the Minister for Women, local councillors and community programmes so that no child ever again suffers a forced marriage.

Plan UK stresses that teachers can be the ones to help combat this problem, but they can only do so if they themselves are educated and supported. Right now information on this issue is displayed in schools, but this is not the same as making sure that children can freely access support, and the only way to ensure that is if teachers are confident in talking about forced marriages.

For instance, the school holidays are considered one of the most dangerous times of the year where girls are at risk of being taken abroad without the regular school routine to highlight that anything is amiss. Teachers who are able to communicate openly with children may be able to detect if children are feeling anxious about the holidays or if there is any evidence of a potential problem.

On the other side of the coin it is also important to educate and empower young people. With this synergistic approach in mind, Plan UK recently launched the video A Right to Say No as part of its ‘Because I Am A Girl’ campaign, a ten minute short film where the viewer can choose the ending of the character’s story.

The film is based on the true story of a 16 year old British girl whose family tried to force her into marriage. The associated teaching pack (Early and Forced Marriage – Lesson plan and†Early and Forced Marriage – More Information) is designed to be used by Key Stage 3 and above (11+).

Ending forced marriages the world over is a cause that is being fought on many fronts, and one solution will not fit in all circumstances. To find out more about early and forced marriages around the world, please click here.

Related Reading:

British Government: More Families Forcing Gay Men into Straight Marriages

From Forced Marriage to Forced Divorce in Saudi Arabia

UK Government Must Help End Child Marriage

Read more: , , , ,

Photo used under the Creative Commons Attribution License, with thanks to Jason Clapp.

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6:09PM PST on Jan 29, 2012


3:36PM PST on Jan 16, 2012

I don't understand why UK girls are being exported for forced marriages: is it for financial gain of the families? If so, why are the countries that are "buying" these girls from the UK and going outside of their own national lines? Is there some advantage in their eyes to getting a girl from the UK? This seems very odd to me, but it's the first time I've heard of this. To me, it would be the same as the US exporting our girls into forced marriages. I don't understand it at all, so please excuse my ignorance if I'm missing something.

8:02PM PST on Jan 7, 2012

All forced marriages, especially under-age marriages, should be illegal. Let the poor girl get an education and get married at an appropriate age, when it is safer for her to get pregnant and then be able to care for a baby properly- you know the guys behind early marriage aren't going to help with child care...

11:14PM PST on Jan 4, 2012

John D. May Shari'a law be banished from the UK and EVERY where on this planet FOREVER ..

And in the process, may under-aged marriage, of which the vast majority is committed in the name of SHARIA be STOPPED at once ..

6:05PM PST on Jan 4, 2012

John - hasn't it become evident that many of these posters live in the world of Oz?

5:28PM PST on Jan 4, 2012

So you are retracting thisd comment?

"I repeat what I've already made clear in all my posts on this thread. I object to the 1735 girls forced into under-age marriage in the name of shari'a law "

And for your information, there are no Sharia law controlled zones in the UK, nor are they to be introduced.

3:53PM PST on Jan 4, 2012

John D. If you think I meant ONLY under-age forced marriages in the name of shari'a should be resolved, you're hugely mistaken. In fact I clearly said: "All girls, no matter their religion or culture or country of origin has the RIGHT to be protected by the laws and police of the UK when crimes are committed against them!"

However, the vast majority of these UK girls listed in this article had been forced into under-age marriage in the name of shari'a. I was more likely underestimating the true figure.

The figure is potentially much bigger than 1735. I quote from this article: "Indeed, a recent report on the issue suggests that there may in fact be between 5,000 to 8,000 cases of forced marriage in the U.K. every year."

"Figures from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) show that more than half of the 1,735 possible forced marriage cases it dealt with around the world between January and December 2010 involved people of Pakistani origin. Countries of origin: Pakistan (52%), Bangladesh (10.3%), India (8.6%), Africa (5%), Turkey (1.7%), Iran (1.3%), Iraq (1.2%), Afghanistan (1%), and other known countries (9.3%)."

Thus it does mean, for an effective strategy, 52% of the police and educational efforts should be focused on girls from Pakistan for example, 10.3% on girls from Bangladesh, etc, in stead of introducing shari'a controlled zones in predominantly Pakistani or Bangladeshi, etc neighbourhoods, which is what is currently happening

3:51PM PST on Jan 4, 2012

Alexandra R

"All girls, no matter their religion or culture or country of origin has the RIGHT to be protected by the laws and police of the UK when crimes are committed against them!"

But they are, Alexandra; the article even says so. So what exactly is your point?

3:38PM PST on Jan 4, 2012

What a nutter. Gillian, no one is supporting forced marriage or child marriages. What is being disputed is your nonsense of posting material from the Quran which is centuries old, but not recognizing that these same practices were upheld in England, America and Europe. You go on about paedophelia, try to attribute it to Islam, where the same crap was done in other countries. Self importance? When did I have claim to be important. I though do claim to make sure I know what I am talking about before I open my gob. When I post a story, I make sure that I know the history of it so I can defend it, not your posting of a story which you failed to be able to defend and instead restorted to calling everyone names like a little petulant child. You are really beyond all belief. You keep on putting so much importance in schooling, putting down my schooling, but it is evident that you have none. People who are educated whether formally or self-educated don't make such wild statements and have such a complete disconnect from the real world. Truly pathetic.

3:32PM PST on Jan 4, 2012

Ah Gillian.

While I doubt your alleged interaction with the police, you at least make an interesting admission:--

"enter mob handed for an arrest. "

So that means that the areas are not "no-go", yes? In addition, perhaps you could ask your police "mates" why the police employ different policing methods for different situations, including on estates where there are no or few ethnic minority residents.

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