By Maya Oppenheim
The Independent (21.08.2018) – https://ind.pn/2N199G0– The number of girls being forced into marriage ahead of the summer holiday period has increased by more than a third in recent years, according to a leading charity which has accused the government of an abject failure to get to grips with the problem.
Karma Nirvana condemned the Home Office for shelving a campaign raising awareness of the practice, which sees girls taken abroad to be married off to strangers, in the “critical” run-up to the summer break – the time of the year when the problem is at its peak.
Speaking exclusively to The Independent, the national charity – which provides training to the police, NHS and social services – revealed it learned of 150 new cases of forced marriage from May to July, a rise of more than a third on the figure seen in the same period in 2015, when it received 99 new cases.
The charity also found cases of forced marriage soared by 40 per cent at the start of the school holidays this year, and revealed it was receiving reports of cases at a rate of two a day in July, more than double the average of 25 seen in the first four months of the year, with 44 cases reported in May and June.
And the figures do not reflect the full scale of the problem, as forced marriage continues to be starkly underreported – with the Home Office describing it as a “hidden crime”.
Jasvinder Sanghera, CBE, founder and chief executive of the charity, warned thousands of girls would not be returning to school in September, having had their educations cut off and – in many cases – been left trapped in a cycle of poverty after falling victim to the offence.
Ms Sanghera, who set up the charity in 2008 after escaping a forced marriage by running away from home aged 16, demanded that sex within such unions be treated as rape.
She said the Home Office had planned an awareness campaign ahead of the summer holidays but decided to drop it at the last minute, postponing it until later in the year, a strategy she said was “missing the point”.
She said the pre-summer holidays campaign had been running for the past few years and would have seen the Forced Marriage Unit work with police and local authorities to raise awareness of the problem. She explained the campaign would have used social media and disseminated posters, literature and information about helplines with the objective of increasing the number of victims coming forward and raising public understanding.
“It was wholly irresponsible of the government to drop a campaign devoted to awareness, pre-summer holidays. This is the most critical time of year,” she told The Independent.
“There will be thousands of children across Britain that are now being prepared for engagements and forced marriages in Britain and [who] will be taken out of this country over the summer break. The family use the opportunity of this long holiday to marry them off.”
Young girls are often told they are going back to their country of origin to visit family, and remain unaware of what is happening until they arrive.
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