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Data failure raises forced marriage risks



MP criticises Government for failing to ensure that schools standardise data on children missing from registers

A “shameful” failure to collect and share data is continuing to put children at risk of forced marriage, an MP has claimed.

Sarah Champion, who helped to expose widespread child abuse in her Rotherham constituency, has sharply criticised foot dragging on recommendations made eight years ago.

In 2008, MPs on the Home Affairs Committee identified 15 places in the UK where children were going missing from school and were believed to be forced into marriage.

Its report recommended that the national curriculum be updated to include lessons on the dangers of domestic violence, forced marriage and 'honour' violence. And it said it was “urgently necessary” to standardise data collection on children going missing from the school register.

But eight years on the Department for Education has said it is still consulting on plans to make schools tell councils when pupils are removed from the register.

Champion, Labour’s spokesman for preventing abuse, said in an interview in The Sunday Times (paywall) failing to make teaching about forced marriages compulsory meant some schools opted not to give pupils those lessons.

Naivety and complacency

“The fact the department is still consulting on how to monitor children missing from school, when this report came out eight years ago, is shameful,” she said. “We need to be addressing the underlying cultural norms and challenging the naivety and complacency that professionals have in this area.”

In 2008, the Home Affairs Committee highlighted how ministers had admitted that local authorities “are using different definitions of categories of children whom they are identifying and tracking”. The then Labour Government suggested it would consult urgently on how to introduce “a standard definition for local authorities in collecting information”.

The report concluded: “There are children in real danger of being removed from school, or further education, and forced into marriage.

“We exposed a confusing picture, of different data recorded by different schools and local authorities in different categories, none of which could give us concrete information about children at risk of forced marriage.

“Currently, schools only record data on pupils listed as being ‘not in suitable education’. This covers a wide range of reasons and, from our investigations, it became clear that these data tell us little about children at risk of forced marriage.”

Data weakness

The committee acknowledged that some victims of forced marriage are older than 16, or home-schooled, and might not be “captured in school data”.

But it said: “Nevertheless, we consider that data collected by schools provide a vital mechanism by which some of those most at risk might be identified.”

Image by Prakhar Amba,CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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