A UK charity has accused the Home Office of shelving a campaign to raise awareness about high school girls being taken abroad to be married off to strangers during the summer while not in class.
"It was wholly irresponsible of the government to drop a campaign devoted to awareness [before the] summer holidays. This is the most critical time of year," Jasvinder Sanghera, founder and chief executive of the British charity Karma Nirvana, told The Independent.
She suggested that there will be "thousands of children across Britain who will not return to school in September," referring to all those who are under the age of 16 and also aged 16 to 18.
"When it comes to September, teachers will notice they are missing, but the alarm bell will not necessarily ring because the first to be alerted are the parents, who will often say they are being educated abroad. The parents are the perpetrators of the crime of forced marriage. The parents' story will be heard and the victims' will not," Sanghera underscored.
She referred to statistics which showed that the past several months have seen 150 new cases of UK girls being forced into marriage, an increase of more than a third over the same period in 2015, when 99 such cases were registered.
In this context, Sanghera recalled that the Home Office itself describes the problem as "a hidden crime" which she said remains vastly underreported.
"Even government says that we are dealing with the tip of an iceberg — we are seeing just a scratch on the surface," she pointed out.
Commenting on the matter, Aisha K. Gill, Professor of Criminology at the University of Roehampton in the UK and co-author of the book "Forced Marriage", told Sputnik that "more needs to be done to enact both short term and long term prevention and protection initiatives to end the forcing of children and young people into marriage."
He singled out an array of factors which he said "contribute to a successful outcome for victims of forced marriage."
According to Gill, these include "offering a supportive practitioner response […], giving clear guidance to victims as well as perpetrators and extended families as well as being aware that personal experiences of coercion in relation to forced marriage can vary greatly."
"In addition, using discretion and professional judgement to develop a tailored, client-centered approach, while still operating within statutory remits, is important to combat individuals being coerced into marriage against their will abroad," Gill concluded.