The number of children subjected to or fearing forced marriage being offered assistance by the UK’s leading children’s charity has hit a record level, new data has revealed.
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) now provides three times more counselling sessions than they did five years ago.
Some of the victims are as young as 13 and they are frequently threatened with violence and emotional blackmail, pressuring them to marry older men they may have never met.
Childline, the 24-hour counselling hotline for children provided by the NSPCC, has experienced more children than ever are calling with fears over forced marriage. The charity said it delivered 12 per cent more counselling sessions in 2016/17 than in 2015/16.
Forced marriage can carry a prison sentence of up to seven years in the UK, but as of December 31, 2016, figures suggest there has been just one conviction in Britain.
The charity said some families use the long school summer holidays to pull children out of Britain and marry them off abroad to strangers.
The full scale of the abuse may be unknown, however, as some girls do not speak out because they are “worried about family honour and being isolated by their communities” and fear their “relatives would be punished if they sought help”.
— NSPCC (@NSPCC) July 31, 2017
One 18-year-old girl who contacted Childline said: “My parents are talking about taking me back to my home country to get married, but I don’t want to. They get violent when I don’t do what they want.
“I want to leave home but they’d never agree to it. I just want to live a normal teenage life, but they won’t let me.”
NSPCC Chief Executive Peter Wanless commented: “Forcing a child to marry shows a complete lack of regard for their feelings, thoughts or ambitions. We must be clear that, regardless of cultural expectations, this is a crime and an abuse of human rights.”
Childline founder and president Dame Esther Rantzen added: “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 are frightened or feel that they have no one to turn to get in touch with Childline.”
There has been a similar failure to prosecute perpetrators of female genital mutilation (FGM) – another crime largely associated with migrant communities.
Despite the practice being illegal in the UK for 31 years, and more than 5,000 new cases recorded in England last year, not a single successful prosecution has been made.