Forced marriage is a widespread issue that schools can play a vital role in combating, says campaigner and sixth-form student Arifa Nasim.
Writing in this week’s TES, she notes that 1,302 cases were dealt with by the UK Forced Marriage Unit in 2013 alone.
“First, it is vital to note that a forced marriage and an arranged marriage are not one and the same,” she explains. “A forced marriage is one that is conducted without the valid consent of one or both parties, and where duress is a factor. An arranged marriage, on the other hand, is dependent on the consent of both parties.”
Another popular myth that Arifa tackles is the idea that all victims of forced marriage are female – in fact, almost one in five is male.
“Schools in particular must be aware of these crimes. Forced marriage is not cultural, it is abuse," she writes. "When Jasvinder Sanghera – a pioneer in the field – first spoke out, she couldn’t get anyone to take her seriously.
“Headteachers tore down her posters, citing ‘cultural sensitivity’. Meanwhile, police officers scarcely followed up on honour abuse claims, fearing accusations of racism.”
However, after several high-profile cases, such as the honour killing of Banaz Mahmod in 2006, the issue of forced marriage began to be taken more seriously, Arifa says.
She warns of the continued prevalence of so-called honour-based crimes, such as forced marriage or female genital mutilation (FGM), adding that education is key to stopping such practices.
“Knowledge is power, and we want to empower our youth. Schools must inform them of what might happen and how they can protect not just themselves but also their friends," she writes.
“These crimes can have tragic consequences, and when young people are forced to marry or undergo FGM it is abuse pure and simple, irrespective of ethnicity and regardless of culture.”
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