Find up to 500 missing Asian children: Keith Vaz

March 11th, 2008 - 5:45 pm ICT by admin  

By Dipankar De Sarkar
London, March 11 (IANS) The chairman of an influential British parliamentary group Tuesday said immediate steps needed to be taken to trace possibly hundreds of missing Asian schoolchildren thought to have been forced into marriages abroad. Forced marriages are a problem identified with some South Asian populations in Britain, with Pakistanis thought to account for most of them.

Information gathered for the British parliament’s Select Committee on Home Affairs suggests hundreds of children could be missing across Britain.

The government says it investigates around 300 cases of forced marriages a year.

But a study commissioned by the Home Office said that in one town alone - Luton - 300 young people sought help over attempts to force them into marriages.

The annual figure could be at least 3,000, the study suggested.

The issue blew up last week after Britain’s child affairs minister told the select committee that 33 schoolchildren were missing in the city of Bradford, which, like Luton, has a large population of Muslims from Pakistan and Bangladesh living in relative poverty.

The children are thought to have been taken out of school to other countries to be married off to people not of their choice.

“The whole committee was taken by surprise,” said Keith Vaz, chairman of the committee.

He said there are a total of 15 “high-risk” local authorities in Britain, and that the total number of missing children could be in the region of 500 rather than 33.

Vaz said the British police, Home Office and Foreign Office need to act together in order to trace the missing children and that his committee has asked to interview British officials in Islamabad.

“If one child is missing in this country, there is a huge hue and cry. Here we have 33 missing,” he said.

Experts have suggested failure of local authorities to investigate children missing from school registers.

In Britain, local and school authorities are meant to follow up unreported absences from school, and social workers said such follow-up may not have taken place in the case of the missing children.

Such action needs to include “a knock on the doors to ask parents where their children are”, said one social worker.

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