Page last updated at 19:49 GMT, Monday, 23 November 2009

Schools warned on forced marriage

Jasvinder Sanghera
Jasvinder Sanghera set up the charity after fleeing a forced marriage

A leading campaigner against forced marriages has warned that thousands of south Asian schoolgirls in West Yorkshire could be at risk of abuse.

Jasvinder Sanghera, who fled her home to avoid being forced into marriage at the age of 15, was speaking at a major conference on the issue in Bradford.

She said her charity Karma Nirvana had identified several schools in West Yorkshire where girls had gone missing.

She urged schools not to be culturally sensitive and "engage" with the issue.

Monday's conference was organised by West Yorkshire law firms Zenith Chambers and Switalskis Solicitors to consider the impact of the Forced Marriage Act which took effect a year ago.

'Significant issue'

They said Leeds was believed to have the UK's highest rate of forced marriages involving girls of school age.

West Yorkshire Police confirmed they receive reports of about 200 cases of abuse related to forced marriage each year.

Ms Sanghera, director and founder of the charity Karma Nirvana, said: "West Yorkshire has a significant issue. We know that from the number of calls we receive to our helpline.

"We have identified a number of schools in the West Yorkshire area where young south Asian girls were going missing.

"We are talking hundreds here and, sad to say, even today there are a number of girls still missing."

You have got victims you haven't noticed that are not in your classrooms today
Jasvinder Sanghera, director of Karma Nirvana

She said they were talking about British-born girls aged as young as 11 and up to 16-years-old.

"The question I would ask West Yorkshire is 'the summer holidays have just ended, did you do a headcount of how many girls didn't come back to school'?

"Schools have got to engage, which we are not seeing. Schools have got to put up posters.

"I have no shadow of doubt that here in West Yorkshire - Leeds, Bradford, Halifax - you have got victims, you have got thousands of victims.

"You have got victims you haven't noticed that are not in your classrooms today.

"These victims need you to notice they are missing.

"The problem is that we become culturally sensitive and believe it is an issue we have to be politically correct about. That's absolute rubbish.

"Cultural acceptance does not mean accepting the unacceptable."



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