33 missing British girls in forced marriages abroad

March 7th, 2008 - 11:55 am ICT by admin  

London, March 7 (IANS) Britain’s minister for children says there is “serious concern” over the fate of 33 girls who have been missing from schools in the northern city of Bradford, which has a large population of ethnic Pakistanis. Kevin Brennan made the comments to the British parliament’s Select Committee on Home Affairs Thursday.

Committee Chairman Keith Vaz said authorities suspect the children have been “taken abroad to participate in forced marriages” - a predominantly Asian practice that the British government has been trying to stamp out.

Vaz said MPs were shocked. “We are genuinely very, very concerned because these are very, very serious matters,” he said.

“The figures you have given us quite frankly have shocked members of this committee just in relation to Bradford.” Vaz said, adding: “There are 14 other areas where there are missing children. This is totally unsatisfactory.”

These areas had high rates of so-called “honour violence”, he said.

The British government cracked down on the practice of some Asian families forcing young girls to marry men who are not of their choosing, sometimes in Pakistan, Bangladesh or India.

Some girls who refuse such marriages have been physically punished in instances of honour violence.

The government says it investigates 300 forced marriages - which are different from arranged marriages - every year, and carries out some 70 overseas rescue operations.

It has established a Forced Marriages Unit, which mounts clandestine rescue operations predominantly to help British women forced into relationships in Pakistan.

Brennan told MPs that Bradford City Council had lost track of 205 youngsters aged under 16 from its school rolls in 2007.

However, following inquiries, 172 were tracked down, but 33 were left unaccounted for.

“What we need to try to do is seek an explanation of what has happened,” he said.

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