Rotterdam trialling plan against forced marriages
Rotterdam council has started a trial to prevent girls being forced into arranged marriages during the holidays. Every year, dozens of girls with a Moroccan, Turkish and Pakistani background fail to return to the Netherlands after the holidays. In the pilot, pupils will be asked to sign a declaration in which they indicate they do not want to enter an arranged marriage. If a pupil is then forced into an arranged marriage, the school can call in the police.
The idea comes from Great Britain, where it has been practice for years. If a girl is forced into an arranged marriage immediate action is taken. The British embassy employs special staff who try to get the girls back to Britain. The Netherlands doesn't yet have such specialised staff. It is not clear how big the problem in Rotterdam is. In an interview with the Dutch station Radio 1, Rotterdam executive councillor Jantine Kriens says that there are dozens of girls affected. Ms Kriens explains that forced arranged marriages often lead to violence connected to family honour.
"We have been working on honour-related violence for some time now. In other words: the threat of violence against girls in the family. You often see that a forced arranged marriage leads to honour-related violence. So we want to take action first by preventing forced arranged marriages."
At the moment there is no-one in the Netherlands to whom girls can turn. Ms Kriens thinks that schools should be the first place they go. Often the schools are the first to notice that the girls have not returned from a holiday. In addition, Rotterdam has launched a campaign to inform pupils about honour-related violence and forced arranged marriage. The teachers are also taught which signs they should look out for, says Ms Kriens:
"There is a lot of information available in schools. For example there are social workers who the pupils trust. Girls can tell them that they are frightened of being forced into an arranged marriage. We ask the social workers if they could report any cases to a special support centre."
The legal grounds to bring girls back to the Netherlands is the compulsory education law. Up to the age of 18, pupils are obliged to follow education. Parents have to register their children with a school and make sure they attend the school. Parents who contravene this law, by keeping their children out of school can be prosecuted. That is how Rotterdam tries to prevent forced arranged marriages. Arranged marriages are not actually banned in the Netherlands as Ms Kriens explains:
"You could decide to ban arranged marriages, but that would not help. The important thing is to set a standard that marriage is something you are free to choose to do or not to do. Girls should only marry because they want to and not because they are being forced to. Then you have to be able to reach the girls and provide an alternative."
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