Teachers urged to stay alert against forced marriage of pupils

Last Updated: Fri, Jul 08, 2011 12:10 hrs

London, July 8 (IANS) The British government has urged teachers to pay more attention to the needs of their students as they may be at risk of becoming victim to forced marriage.

The Forced Marriage Unit (FMU), a joint-initiative between the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Home Office, is preparing for its busiest time of the year as a large number of forced marriages occur during the school summer holidays.

Over 350 young people this summer in Britain could be forced to marry someone against their will and as a result may not return to their classrooms in the next academic year, the foreign office said in a statement Friday.

In some cases young people are taken on what they have been told is a holiday to visit family abroad, but in fact a marriage has been planned, it said.

Ben Rawlings, joint head of the FMU, said: 'Teachers can play a crucial role in identifying and protecting students who are at risk of forced marriage and we urge them to be vigilant in the run up to the summer holidays.

'If the warning signs are picked up early enough, a teacher can stop a forced marriage happening. However, it is vital that they follow our guidelines on how to handle the situation to avoid putting the victim at further risk.'

The FMU, the government's 'one-stop shop' against forced marriage, provides support to the victims of forced marriages and training and guidance to professionals working with the victims or potential victims.

To help teachers recognise potential forced marriage victims, it has identified three important warning signs to look out for over the next few weeks: A student is anxious about or is fearing the forthcoming school holidays; surveillance of a student by cousins or siblings at school or being met by family at the end of the day; a student is prevented from going on to further or higher education.

Other signs to consider include: persistent absence; requests for extended leave; decline in behaviour, performance or punctuality; not being allowed to attend extra-curricular activities or sudden announcement of engagement to a stranger.

Teachers who suspect a pupil may be at risk of being forced into marriage can contact the FMU helpline on 020 7008 0151 or email fmu@fco.gov.uk for advice. For out of hours emergency advice, one can call 020 7008 1500.

Last year the FMU gave advice or support related to a possible forced marriage in 1,735 instances.

The unit has already received 738 calls or emails about suspected forced marriages so far this year but expects the volume to rise over the summer months, the statement added.

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