Forced marriage calls to ChildLine rise, says the NSPCC

Sameem Ali was forced into marriage and pregnancy as a child

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The number of children who rang ChildLine worried they could be forced into marriage has nearly trebled in the last three years, the NSPCC has said.

Across the UK the number of calls to the charity about forced marriage has risen from 55 calls a year in 2011 to 141 in 2013.

Around a quarter of those who contacted ChildLine about the issue were aged 12 to 15, the NSPCC said.

From Monday, forced marriage will be a criminal offence in England and Wales.

The Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill will make the crime of forced marriage punishable by a maximum of seven years in prison.

The NSPCC, which has released an animated film to educate children about it to mark the change in law, said some of those who called ChildLine last year were frightened, depressed or even suicidal.

The charity says others had been threatened by their families and that one in 10 cases had involved violence.

The NSPCC film highlights how young people can be forced into an unwanted marriage

Sameem Ali told BBC Breakfast she was forced into a marriage after she was taken abroad at the age of 12 by her mother.

"I was brought back to the UK at the age of 13 - I was pregnant at the time. I gave birth at the age of 14 in the UK.

"Nobody batted an eyelid, nobody asked any questions because it was culturally acceptable," she said.

John Cameron, from the NSPCC, said it was difficult to pinpoint the number of children who might be at risk of forced marriage, but said the charity had seen a "real increase" in the number of calls it has received on the issue.

"Children are becoming more and more conscious of the fact that they want to have an opportunity to choose their partners and have relationships out of choice and not be forced into it," he told the BBC.

'Basic human right'

He said children are now being "empowered to speak out" but said more work needs to be done.

Dr Ash Chand, the NSPCC's strategy head for minority ethnic children, said the change in the law was a "huge step forward".

"However, there is still much work to be done. Choosing a life partner is a basic human right and no religion or culture condones forced marriage.

"Yet, despite this, many children and young people are being coerced or even forced to do so without their consent."

BBC Asian Network reporter, Poonam Taneja, said forced marriage remains a "very under reported problem" and said the ChildLine figures may just be the "tip of the iceberg".

Last year the government's forced marriage unit gave advice or support to potential victims of a possible forced marriage in 1,302 cases.

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