Research by West Yorkshire charity Karma Nirvana shows that 80 per cent of UK forced marriages happen abroad, with many teenagers disappearing in the summer break from school.
Now, amid warnings that an understanding of challenges within multicultural communities in Yorkshire is needed in order to eradicate such practice, an academy trust in Leeds is taking preventative action.
Over coming days, 1,000 young adults at the Co-operative Academy of Leeds are to be supplied with spoons to hide in their clothes, triggering security systems at airports if they fear they are to be forced abroad.
“We are failing a lot of children, and failing to protect them,” said Harinder Kaur, social, culture and ethos leader at the school. “We are multicultured in Britain. There are so many benefits to that.
“But we have to address things that don’t fit into British culture – and forced marriage is one of those.”
Such incidents are happening in Yorkshire, Mrs Kaur has warned, citing examples at the school where pupils have returned from the summer holidays pregnant, or not at all.
The secondary has more than 75 languages spoken in its school, she said, and the reality is that many education centres in Yorkshire are increasingly facing such challenges. But without open discussion to challenge misconceptions, she added it cannot be acknowledged or eradicated.
“Statistics show us that forced marriages are happening in the summer holidays,” she said. “During term time, as soon as a child is off school, there are phone calls to check on them, visits to their home. In the holidays, nobody is going to do that. Why are we not dealing with prevention in education? We can save lives – this needs to be a requirement. If children are disappearing, there has to be alarm bells ringing.”
The Harehills school is working with Karma Nirvana to advise teenagers who could be taken abroad against their will. The human rights charity, based in Leeds, revealed earlier this year it has seen a 40 per cent spike in calls for support over honour-based violence and abuse or forced marriage.
Last year, it fielded nearly 100 pleas for help over those fearing they would be forced into marriage from West Yorkshire, the area that sees the most incidences nationwide. Among the near-13,000 calls to the charity’s helpline were 11 reports from children aged under 10, while it receives 22 calls a week from teenagers seeking support. This week, as the charity builds up to its annual day memorial day for victims, the school is to host assemblies, hosting guest speakers, and a balloon release in memory of those killed.
The spoons, says Mrs Kaur, are not just about arming the young people with tools to escape, but are about conversations.
“We have to address misconceptions,” she said. “If we can educate, and the parents as well, we can stop it. These kids are the future. So many people don’t realise it is happening here. We can’t eradicate this if we don’t talk about it. It feels as if we’re still failing a lot of young people.”