Police chiefs have backed a call for more rigorous handling of forced marriage following reports there could be more than ten times as many cases in the UK as official government figures suggest.
Home Office-funded research in Luton has revealed that at least 300 people contact advice services about forced marriage every year. Margaret Moran MP, a member of a the home affairs select committee, said that if these figures were extended to the rest of the UK there could be as many as 4,000 incidents per year compared to Home Office estimates of just 300.
Suffering in silence
Report author Dr Nazia Khanum, director of independent consultancy Equality in Diversity, said that many individuals were suffering in silence, adding: “Only a few extremely brave individuals get in touch with the help-lines known to them or some of their enterprising friends.”
Dr Khanum also identified problems in inconsistent record-keeping by a number of agencies which led to cases being classified as domestic violence. She criticised the local constabulary for not maintaining a separate file on forced marriage, which they have now promised to do.
Met Police Authority backs study
The Metropolitan Police Authority welcomed the report. Aneeta Prem, lead member on dishonour-based violence, said: “Existing legislation only deals with the results of coercion into marriage – beatings, kidnap and, in the worst cases, murder. Police are unable to quantify the full extent of the problem because of the way these crimes are recorded, which leads to difficulties in allocating appropriate resources.”
Home Office minister Vernon Coaker said last week that the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007, which will soon come into force, would place important guidelines for agencies on a statutory footing.
Bradford children missing from roll
Meanwhile, Bradford Council has provided further details on figures showing 33 children have been missing from school rolls for over two months, which had sparked concerns over forced marriage. These were identified last week at the home affairs select committee by junior children’s minister Kevin Brennan and the committee subsequently requested further information from the authority. A committee spokesperson said that the council had now accounted for all but three children.
Kath Tunstall, Bradford Council’s strategic director of services to children and young people, said: “There has been much speculation about children missing from the school roll and forced marriages. However, it is inappropriate to assume that children who are not on a school roll are linked to forced marriages.”
However, in a submission to the committee on children missing from school rolls in thirteen other authorities identified as having a high incidence of forced marriage, Brennan said there was a “good deal of variation in the data, and some figures may appear to be rather high”.
Forced marriage will be one of the issues discussed at Community Care’s conference on working with faith communities to safeguard children on 22 April. Book your place.