03:56 GMT +321 September 2019
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    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

    'A Hidden Crime': UK Charity Slams London's Inability to Tackle Forced Marriages

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    In an exclusive interview with The Independent, Jasvinder Sanghera, chief executive of the British charity Karma Nirvana, specifically drew attention to the fact that the number of girls being forced into marriage during their summer break from school has increased by more than a third in the past few years.

    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.

    READ MORE: Men Often 'Forgotten Victims' in Forced Marriages — UK Expert

    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.

    READ MORE: Scale of Sham Marriages for UK Visas Remains Unclear

    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.

    The Home Office, for its part, stated that it continues to cooperate with charities and police "to highlight this important issue to the public and the work being done to tackle it, via the media and community engagement."

    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.

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