Teenagers can’t be expected to implicate their parents. Child protection services must be braver and intervene
The 3,500 reports of forced marriage over a three-year period, revealed by the Guardian this week, translates to 22 unwilling brides (sometimes bridegrooms) every single week. That sounds bad enough, but what’s even less palatable is that every such “marriage” means someone is being raped. Typically, repeatedly raped. And it’s the people who are loved and trusted most – mothers and fathers, aunts, uncles and siblings – who are facilitating those rapes. When it’s a minor who is married off against their will, the plain truth is that these relatives are planning, assisting and encouraging child rape.
Extraordinary numbers of young women – and sometimes young men – are living in fear of this crime: last year alone the charity Karma Nirvana, which campaigns against “honour”-based violence, took nearly 9,000 calls on its Forced Marriage helpline. Last year, almost 200 of those calls were made either by terrified children aged 15 or under or on their behalf. Their fears are not inflated: it turns out that the majority of applications for forced marriage protection orders are for children aged 17 or under.
According to charities that support victims of forced marriage, “honour”-based crimes are most prevalent in diaspora communities from South Asia, the Middle East and north and east Africa practising Muslim, Sikh and Hindu religions, as well as Orthodox Jewish and occasionally Traveller communities.
Uncomfortable though it may feel, teachers, police, medical professionals and child protection workers can no longer dance delicately around this, fearful of potential damage to community relations. It’s hard to imagine that anyone might facilitate the repeated rape of their own child, but the numbers tell a different story. And in the past two weeks, a mother in Birmingham and a couple in Leeds have been found guilty of tricking their teenage daughters oversees – to Pakistan in the first case and Bangladesh in the second – to marry against their will. When it’s a minor, the state has enhanced statutory duties under the Forced Marriage Act of 2007 to protect these children – so who was looking after them?