Children as young as 13 are reporting concerns about forced marriages, a charity has warned.
Girls as young as 13 told Childline counsellors they were frightened about being taken abroad and forced to marry strangers by their families. Many said they experienced emotional abuse from their parents and were afraid of being cut out of their communities if they refused.
In 2016/17, Childline has carried out 205 counselling sessions on forced marriage, a 12 per cent rise on the previous year. The charity’s website has received 6,099 visits to its forced marriage webpage.
NSPCC Chief Executive Peter Wanless said: “No child should be forced into marriage and we must be clear that, regardless of cultural expectations, this is a crime and an abuse of human rights. Forcing a child to marry shows a complete lack of regard for their feelings, thoughts or ambitions.”
“We understand some may worry about betraying their family but we would urge anyone – including potential victims – to speak up before it is too late. Help us break the cycle and speak up, so that we can step in and stop a child being bound into something that they would never ask for,” he added.
A forced marriage is a marriage that takes place without the full and free consent of both parties. It is against the law and offenders can go to prison for up to seven years. Force can include physical force but may also include emotional pressure, being threatened or being a victim of psychological abuse.
Children may have been told they are going on a normal holiday and don't realise they are going to be married to a stranger. Once they're abroad, it can be difficult to get help and stop the marriage, the charity warns.
Many children don't speak up about forced marriage because they're worried about family honour and being isolated by their communities. Others fear their relatives would be punished if they sought help.
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