Campaign calls for staff to be on lookout for potential forced marriage victims

2:00pm Wednesday 4th June 2014

By Jessica Cree

A CAMPAIGNER against forced marriage is urging schools to be on the look-out for potential victims this summer.

Alex Jones, who founded a nationwide campaign dedicated to murdered Shafilea Ahmed, said although there had been considerable progress, education institutions were ‘still refusing to tackle’ the issue.

Shafilea ran away to Blackburn before being killed by her parents bec-ause she was Westernised, and refused to obey them.

Mr Jones, from It’s my right - No Forced Marriages, said her situation could potentially be happening to others in East Lancashire, and he urged teach-ers to take more responsibility when it comes to spotting those who could be at risk.

Shafilea’s parents Iftikhar and Farzana Ahmed were jailed for life in 2012 after being convicted of their daughter’s murder.

Mr Jones said: “We can’t have this continuation of those who reach out from despair to try and find hope, to only find it’s met with an open culture of dismissal. To have this degrades the courage of those who have fought to reach out.

“Schools need to realise that forced marriage isn’t a minority issue, it’s a hum-an rights one.”

He said preventative measures taken throughout the school year could stop youngsters being taken away during the long summer break.

Mr Jones added: “Action is pivotal to saving lives. The frontline of protection starts in the classroom.

“The fundamental messages that we must get them to realise are that nobody can be allowed to go missing. It’s everyone’s right to be educated, to have a life of their own choices, and to be free to choose who they marry.”

Les Turner, Lancashire secretary for the National Association of Headteach-ers, said teachers were passionate about keeping their pupils safe, and worked closely with social ser-vices and the police to tackle the problem.

He said: “Schools are being blamed for the probl-ems in our society, but schools do not create society’s problems, they have to deal with them.

“Teachers try to confront the issue and schools have a responsibility to safeguard children.

“Therefore, to turn around and say schools do not take seriously the problem of forced marriage is absolutely ludicrous.

“Any teacher, or member of staff in a school, that does not try to confront that issue is failing in their responsibility.”

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