FORWARD, alongside Co-Chairs IKWRO, Independent Yemen Group and Karma Nirvanna have published the following statement in response to the new Childline figures on forced marriage calls.

“The NSPCC report of increasing calls in relation to forced marriage (Report, 31 July) is alarming. In 2016 more than a quarter of cases dealt with by the Forced Marriage Unit involved under-18s. Child marriage is a harmful practice that has severe, lifelong consequences and is a violation of human rights under international law.

Childline and charities like ours provide support for children at risk but are not the whole solution. The increase indicates a need for urgent action and is a damning indictment of the government’s response to child marriage. Despite the criminalisation of forced marriage, loopholes remain. Eighteen is the legal age for marriage in England, Wales and Northern Ireland but legislation allows marriage of 16- and 17-year-olds with parental consent, which can mean coercion. In Scotland, the minimum age of marriage is 16 and does not require parental consent.

Sadly, the only way that children can prevent child marriage is if they report the crime, which can result in them being isolated from their families at a young and vulnerable age. Otherwise they enter into unwanted marriages. As a society we must do more to protect these children, starting with closing all existing legal loopholes.”

Naana Otoo-Oyrtey Executive director of Forward, Diana Nammi Executive director of IKWRO, Lubna Maktari Director, IYG, Jasvinder Sanghera CEO of Karma Nirvana, All co-chairs of Girls Not Brides UK.

Read and share the statement, published as a Guardian letter here.