Recent media reports have warned that schools need to do more to prevent forced marriage, but why do teachers play such a vital role? And why is this time of year so important?
Last year, the government’s Forced Marriage Unit intervened in 371 cases involving British nationals under the age of 18. Many victims are forced to marry while still attending school, meaning that the risk typically increases during the summer holidays when they can be taken abroad.
“Many young people right now in classrooms are dreading the summer holidays,” said Jasvinder Sanghera CBE, founder of UK charity, Karma Nirvana, which supports forced marriage victims. “No teacher wants to be looking out into their classroom come September and notice a sea of faces missing and wishing they had acted.”
For pupils facing forced marriage, school may be the only place where they will meet adults outside of their community. This means that a teacher could be the only professional to spot the signs that a pupil is at risk.
These signs may include: older siblings who’ve been forced to marry, controlling parents, extended absences, family disputes or domestic abuse. Changes in the pupil’s behaviour — including depression, low motivation, truancy, eating disorders, substance abuse or isolation — can be another indication.
The Forced Marriage Unit’s multi-agency guidelines (gov.uk/guidance/forced-marriage) advise the teacher or pastoral lead to talk to the student in private. The school should then make a police/social services referral in accordance with the guidelines and local safeguarding procedures.
Sanghera warns that involving family members can increase the risk of harm to the pupil. “Don’t speak to the parents, talk to us first,” she said. “All call handlers are here to help teachers with concerns in confidence.”
The text on this page is the original, unedited version of the article. It was used in a wider article on FGM and forced marriage in the July/August edition of The Teacher magazine. Read the article here (page 31).