‘Forced marriage’ is where one or both parties do not consent to marriage, but are forced into it through physical or emotional abuse. It differs from arranged marriage, which is part of some cultures, where, crucially, prospective spouses can choose not to go ahead with the arrangement. Forced marriage was made illegal in 2014 under the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act. Despite this, last year there were almost 1,200 reports of forced marriage in the UK and in over a quarter of these cases those being forced to marry were under the age of 18. What is a school’s role and obligation in preventing forced marriage?

Prior to the summer holidays, the issue hit the national press. A school in Yorkshire was reported to be encouraging girls to put metal spoons in their underwear in order to set off airport metal detectors to give them the opportunity to alert the authorities. The same school also ran a series of events to signpost pupils to support systems for those who are at risk of forced marriage.

Assisting in preventing forced marriage falls within schools’ statutory general duty to safeguard pupils and to promote their welfare. The Keeping Children Safe in Education guidance (“KCSIE”) (the new version of which will be in force from 3 September 2018) and Working Together to Safeguard Children provide clarification on a school’s obligations. The Forced Marriage Unit has also produced guidance titled “The Right to Choose: Multi-Agency Statutory Guidance for Dealing with Forced Marriage”.

All schools should have a Designated Protection Officer with overall safeguarding responsibilities. Staff should know who this person is, and be aware of the school’s safeguarding policies (in particular the Unauthorised Absence policy and Children Missing from Education policy).

Staff should receive safeguarding training at least once a year. Where there is a high risk of forced marriage within the school’s local community, any safeguarding training should provide particular focus on this risk. Staff should be made aware of signs and indicators such as:

  • Absence or request for extended leave;
  • Children fearing school holidays;
  • Surveillance by siblings and cousins at school;
  • Pupils being prevented from pursuing further education and after school activities; and
  • Sudden announcements of engagement.

If staff have any concerns they should speak in the first instance to the Designated Protection Officer for the school who should activate safeguarding procedures using local protocols for multiagency liaison with police and social services. A school’s role in picking up on early indicators is vital. Consideration will be given to making a social services referral and if there is any immediate risk, then the police should be alerted.

As well as ensuring staff are trained and aware of policies, pupils should also be made aware of the issue, its risks and its indicators. For example, the forced marriage could be included as part of the Citizenship Curriculum; appropriate posters could be placed around the school to signpost pupils to support systems; and pupils should be made aware of their rights and the options open to them.