Hundreds of young girls seeking help over forced marriage, charities warn
Rising numbers of young girls are seeking help to cope with the trauma of forced marriage, support groups have warned.
Hundreds of "frightened" and "helpless" teens as young as 13 are contacting Childline for support. The charity said it delivered 12% more counselling sessions in 2016/17 than in 2015/16.
It comes as the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) said some families use the long school summer holidays to pull children out of Britain and marry them off abroad to strangers.
Family and community loyalties, mixed notions of honour and the film of secrecy over the taboo issue make its true scale hard to grasp, the NSPCC said.
Girls added that fears of ostracism, cultural expectations and punishment for relatives acted as barriers against them speaking out.
A 17-year-old girl told counsellors: "I got forced to marry last year. I never wanted any of this.
"My friends are being supportive but I can't talk to my mum about it as she thinks he's the best thing for me and told me that if I end the marriage, she won't speak to me ever again. I've never even met him."
:: In 2011/12, Childline said it provided just 55 counselling sessions on forced marriage.
:: In 2016/17, they delivered 205, up from 183 in 2015/16.
NSPCC chief executive Peter Wanless said: "Forcing a child to marry shows a complete lack of regard for their feelings, thoughts or ambitions. We must be clear that, regardless of cultural expectations, this is a crime and an abuse of human rights."
Childline founder and president Dame Esther Rantzen added: "Young people can feel helpless because sometimes those near to them aren't interested in their happiness or welfare.
"It's desperately important that those are frightened or feel that they have no one to turn to get in touch with Childline."
Forced marriage can carry a prison sentence of up to seven years, the group said.
But they added as of December 31 last year, figures suggest there has been just one conviction in Britain.
Childline can be reached on 0800 1111 and the NSPCC Helpline is 0808 800 5000.
Both lines are free, confidential and open 24/7.