Women’s Rights Group Fears Lack of Record-Keeping Is Putting Girls at Risk of Child Marriage19 May 2020
A women’s rights organisation has warned that lack of record-keeping in England and Wales is risking girls at risk of child marriage going undetected by the authorities. The organisation has also warned that there will be a spike in cases as coronavirus-related lockdowns ease and urged social workers to be ready to respond.
The group has also expressed concern that social workers are insufficiently-trained in the complexities surrounding “honour-based abuse” including child marriage.
There were 165 children in England and Wales at risk of child marriage
The warning was issued by IKWRO, a women’s rights organisation, which warned that between 2018 and 2019 – the latest batch of data available – there were 165 children in England and Wales at risk of child marriage. The data was collected under a Freedom of Information Act request. However, it added that 56% of the departments responsible for children’s social care in England and Wales are not recording the number of minors that may be at risk of child marriage.
According to IKWRO, departments that were collecting data on minors that are at risk of “honour-based abuse” identified 280 children in England and Wales during the same period, including 117 looked-after children. Yet, when local authorities in the two countries were questioned, 66 of them were revealed to have no processes for recording those at risk. This is despite the fact that, according to IKWRO founder, Diana Nammi, every local authority is affected by these issues.
There has been an increased intensity of “honour-based abuse” since the lockdown started
According to Nammi, her organisation has seen an “an increased intensity” in the cases of “honour-based abuse”. She says that the closure of schools has separated many at-risk children from professionals who can spot signs of trouble and refer them to social services for protection. She added that her organisation anticipates a spike in child marriages when lockdown eases.
She urged social services to get a better understanding of the dynamics of honour-based violence, and to be ready to safeguard children as lockdown eases. She warned that failing to do so would leave many children vulnerable to severe life-long harm.
“Social workers are mostly brilliant people who care about child protection, but some do not know the basics and lack of training is a big problem. Some are even unaware of forced marriage protection orders which are issued by the family court to prevent a child’s parents taking them abroad,” said Selma Bayou, an independent domestic violence advocate for IKWRO.
The latest United Kingdom-wide figures show that there are many more cases of child marriage than local data indicates. According to 2018 figures, 1,764 cases of possible forced marriage were recorded, with 574 victims involved under the age of 18. 348 incidences of forced marriage and 184 cases of “honour-based violence” were recorded in West Yorkshire alone. Yet, Bradford Metropolitan Council as no process in place to record children at risk of these crimes. Similarly, Birmingham City Council has no monitoring for under-18s at risk despite West Midlands police recording 188 cases of “honour”-based violence and 34 of forced marriage in 2018.
The first successful conviction of a forced marriage case took place in 2018, when a Birmingham woman was found guilty of deceiving her teenage daughter into travelling to Pakistan and forcing her to marry a man nearly twice her age.