BRITISH teachers should be vigilant ahead of the long summer holidays of any signs that indicate parents might take their children abroad to marry them off or undergo fe- male genital mutilation (FGM), experts warned on Monday (27).
Aneeta Prem, founder of Freedom Charity that campaigns on forced marriage and FGM, said the end of the school term “marks the start of the cutting season where young girls are taken abroad and brutally mutilated by their families.”
Girls and boys are also at risk of being taken abroad for forced marriage, she told a conference for police, teachers and health and social workers in Stevenage, north of London.
There are an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 forced marriages or threats of forced marriage in Britain every year, experts at the conference said.
Girls threatened with forced marriage might ap- pear anxious, depressed or withdrawn, lose interest in schoolwork or disappear from social networks, such as Facebook, they said.
They also may harm themselves or develop an eating disorder.
Teachers should be alert if a girl’s family suddenly restricts her movements, arranges for her to be es- corted home from school by older brothers or if she says her parents are taking her on a holiday to meet someone, Prem advised.
Summer holidays in Britain begin in July and usually last about six weeks but can be longer.
Forced marriage is linked to a slew of abuses includ- ing kidnapping, domestic violence, serial rape and even murder, experts said.
Many cases involve girls from South Asian back- grounds, but Britain’s Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) said it has handled cases involving more than 90 countries since 2005.
Prem said the youngest suspected case of forced marriage she had seen involved a
girl with special needs.
The practice is illegal under British law, even if carried out abroad, but po- lice and teachers are often reluctant to intervene for fear of being branded rac- ist, they said.
But Prem said intervention into possible forced marriage or honour abuse violence carried out on someone believed to have shamed their family – could save lives.
“If someone is going to call you a racist, well, rath- er that than allow someone to be murdered,” she said.
The conference heard about the case of teenager Banaz Mahmod, a Kurdish girl in London killed by her family in 2006 after being spotted kissing a boyfriend, having left an abusive mar- riage. She knew she was in danger, but police ignored a plea for help.
Comfort Momoh, a FGM expert, said alarm bells should ring if a girl talks about going away for a special ceremony or shows a change in behaviour.
FGM can cause chronic pain, infections and prob- lems with urination and menstruation, so teachers should be alert if a girl takes frequent toilet breaks, can- not sit comfortably on the floor and regularly misses school, Momoh said.
Katie Furniss, joint head of the FMU, warned that teachers and social work- ers should not try to medi- ate with the family in a forced marriage case and should contact authorities, such as the FMU.
“There have been cases of people being murdered while attempts at mediation weremade,”shesaid. (Thom- son Reuters Foundation)