Girls at risk of child marriage as half of local authorities fail to keep records

Girls at risk of child marriage are falling under the radar of authorities in England and Wales because of a lack of record-keeping by more than half of the departments responsible for children’s social care, a charity has warned.

IKWRO women’s rights organisation says it is preparing for a spike in cases following the easing of lockdown and is urging social workers to be ready to respond.

It has written to local authorities amid concerns that some social workers were not fully trained or aware of the complexities around “honour”-based abuse including child marriage.

Responses collected under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that between 2018 and 2019, the latest data available, there were 165 children in England and Wales at risk of child marriage.

Yet 56% of departments responsible for children’s social care in the two countries were found not recording how many minors were at risk of child marriage.

During the same period 280 children in England and Wales, including 117 looked-after children, were identified by those departments that were collecting data as at risk of “honour”-based abuse. Yet 66 local authorities out of those questioned said they had no process for recording those at risk.

IKWRO says it is vital authorities record every potential case of these complex crimes to understand and respond to their prevalence on a national scale.

Its founder, Diana Nammi, said: “We know through years working with survivors as well as data collected from police forces that they affect nearly every local authority in the country.”

The latest UK-wide figures show there were many more cases of child marriage than local authority data would suggest. Of the 1,764 cases involving a possible forced marriage the Forced Marriage Unit gave support to in 2018, 574 (33%) involved victims under 18. The data for 2019 is yet to be published.

Nammi said since the lockdown measures came into place IKWRO has seen “an increased intensity” in the cases of “honour” abuse already known to its workers and that they anticipate a spike in child marriage cases when lockdown eases.

“At present with schools closed and restrictions on movement many at-risk children are not interacting with professionals who should be able to spot the signs and refer them to social services for protection,” said Nammi.

“As the lockdown measures begin to lift, now more than ever, social services must be equipped to properly understand the dynamics of ‘honour’ and be ready to safeguard children. If they fail to do this, many will be left vulnerable to severe, lifelong harm.”

During 2018, West Yorkshire police recorded 348 reports of incidents related to forced marriage and 184 where “honour-based violence” was a factor. Yet Bradford metropolitan council has no process in place to record children at risk of these crimes.

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