ALMOST a hundred ethnic minority pupils have disappeared from schools in the past two years – amid fears some have been forced into marriage.

A Gazette investigation has revealed that 62 under-17s from ethnic minority backgrounds went missing from Islington school registers in 2006-7, and 27 disappeared without trace the following year.

The authorities have no idea where they went – but there are concerns that some may have been forced into marriages overseas.

Shaminder Ubhi, director of the Ashiana Project, a charity for South Asian, Turkish and Iranian women at risk of forced marriages or domestic violence, said: “Children are being taken out of schools and forced into marriages and it is worrying. Out of almost 100 children in Islington it is hard to know how many of them have been forced into marriage.

“Schools need to be held to account. They also need to identify pupils who may be at risk.”

This year a select committee of MPs discovered that hundreds of children from ethnic minorities across England have disappeared from schools.

Some MPs said they suspected girls, and some boys, were being taken out of school and forced to marry.

A Home Office-funded study claims there are about 4,000 forced marriages a year in the UK but this could be an underestimate.

Education officials have a duty to tell social services if there is no reason for long-term school absence.

Meena Patel, joint co-ordinator of Southall Black Sisters, a group which supports Asian and African-Caribbean women including victims of forced marriages, said: “The missing pupils in Islington highlights a combination of issues – they may have been forced into marriages, or taken out perhaps because they are not deemed important enough as girls.

“It’s worrying if schools are not chasing up as to why a child has not attended school.”

Jackie Hadley, education welfare service manager at Cambridge Education @ Islington, the body running the borough’s schools, said: said: “The process for tracking pupils who leave school with no destination placement involves various agencies to complete the relevant checks.

“When the education welfare service receives notification of a missing child, our missing/lost children procedures are initiated.”

Councillor Ursula Woolley (Liberal Democrat), Islington Council’s executive member for children and young people, said: “We have systems in place and we examine all cases where pupils have been removed without saying where they’re going. We also give training to schools on this subject.”

If you know anyone who may be forced into marriage overseas call the Forced Marriage Unit on 020 7008 0151 or forced marriage charity Karma Nirvana on 01332 604 098.

Source: Islington Gazette 26 November 2008