Be vigilant against forced marriages, schools urged

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The Independent Online

Schools were today urged to be vigilant about potential cases of forced marriage as the summer holidays approach.

New Government guidelines were issued to teachers, doctors and police to help identify and tackle the problem.

Foreign Office minister Chris Bryant insisted every school should be looking at the issue as he acknowledged some may have been "uncertain" about cultural sensitivities.

The summer break is a peak time for incidents of young people, usually girls, being taken to south Asia in particular and forced by their families to marry.

Latest figures from the Government's Forced Marriage Unit suggest that 70 per cent of cases involved families of Pakistani origin and 11 per cent of a Bangladeshi background.

Asked whether schools were turning a blind eye to the problem, he said: "I'm not sure that's true. But I would say to every school that they should be looking at this."

Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme, he added: "It may be possible that some have been uncertain about the cultural issues here.

"But 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 also rejected any notion that it was an issue to do with the Islamic faith.

"Marriage in every religion has to be freely consented to."

There have already been 770 calls to the Forced Marriage Unit so far this year, a 16 per cent increase on the same period last year.

But there is concern that many youngsters affected are frightened to come forward and make their plight known until it is too late.

Mr Bryant said: "The most important thing is to spot the problem before it happens. There are key times of the year just as now when this is the case."

Tell-tale signs can include evidence of self-harm or sudden lack of interest in academic work, he said.

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