Large rise in number of forced early marriages

Date: 8th August 2017
Category: Protection from abuse or neglect

Figures from the NSPCC report a rise in the number of forced marriage counselling sessions for children as young as 13. The number of children attending counselling sessions has nearly quadrupled in five years.

Young children are being forced into marriage through violence, bullying and threats from adults. Children fear they will be disowned by their family and isolated from the community. Figures released have shown that counselling session around forced marriage in 2016-2017 increased by 12%.

Calls to the NSPCC's confidential helpline for youngsters, Childline, led to 205 counselling sessions about forced marriage in 2016-17, up by 12% on the previous year. In 2011-12, 55 counselling sessions about forced marriage were needed.

Some children fear that defying their parents' wishes may bring "dishonour" and lead to them being isolated from their communities.

According to case studies released by the charity, one 17-year-old girl told counsellors: "I got forced to marry last year. I never wanted any of this. My friends are being supportive, but I can't talk to my mum about it as she thinks he's the best thing for me and told me that if I end the marriage, she won't speak to me ever again. I've never even met him."

The increase may be explained by potential victims being more aware of the help available and a greater awareness that the practice is wrong.

The NSPCC's chief executive, Peter Wanless, said: "This is a crime and an abuse of human rights. Forcing a child to marry shows a complete lack of regard for their feelings, thoughts or ambitions.

"We understand some may worry about betraying their family, but we would urge anyone, including potential victims, to speak up before it is too late. Help us break the cycle and speak up, so that we can step in and stop a child being bound into something that they would never ask for."

The long school summer holidays may increase the dangers of children being taken out of Britain for a forced marriage, the NSPCC warned.

The government introduced a new law tackling forced marriages in the 2014 Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act, but so far it had resulted in only one successful prosecution, the NSPCC said.

Figures from the Crown Prosecution Service show that in 2015-16, other laws were used. That year, there were 90 referrals to police, and 53 of these cases were prosecuted.

Forced marriage protection orders, made by family courts, were issued 246 times in 2016 and aim to curb the actions of those trying to force someone into a marriage.

A Home Office spokesperson said: "Forced marriage is an abhorrent practice that this government is determined to tackle.

"We made forced marriage a criminal offence in 2014 and are encouraged by the first conviction, but we know there is much more to do. We want to give more victims of this hidden crime the confidence to come forward, which is why we introduced lifelong anonymity for victims last year. We will continue to work with the police, Crown Prosecution Service and others to drive progress."

The government has a forced marriage unit. Of the cases it deals with, the unit said 80% affect females and 20% affect males. It links the practice to communities from more than 60 countries.

The founder of Childline, Dame Esther Rantzen, said: "Young people can feel helpless because sometimes those near to them aren't interested in their happiness or welfare. It's desperately important that those who are frightened or feel that they have no one to turn to get in touch with Childline."