Some children in Sweden have seemingly gone missing as they did not return to school after summer vacation.
The reason, according to both Swedish officials and NGOs, is that they have been taken abroad and forced into marriage.
While the full extent of the problem is unknown, calls to a hotline for reporting child marriages and kidnapping with intent to marry off kids has increased from 61 in 2014 to 165 cases in 2018.
“Many people try and deal with this without calling us, I believe far more are exposed,” said Christina Malmqvist, an expert at the National Competency Team.
According to Education Minister and Green Party spokesman Gustav Fridolin, the Swedish government has this year invested in tightening measures against schoolchildren “disappearing” from the radar. Among other things, school principals were urged to report absences. According to Fridolin, this will help determine long-term absences and set up a basis for a national survey.
Katarina Idegård, Gothenburg City coordinator against honor-related violence and oppression, stressed that the collected statistics are often difficult to interpret, as even if schools gather data on missing students, they are most often unable to determine the reason for the absences.
In 2014, at least 100,000 young people under the age of 25 were living under so-called honor-related oppression in Sweden, according to the government’s then-coordinator for family violence.
While child marriage is strictly forbidden according to Swedish law, a 2016 survey by the Swedish Migration Board counted at least 132 cases of child marriage.
Azam Qarai, spokesperson for the NGO Women’s Network, reiterated calls for a comprehensive nationwide mapping of missing pupils so that forced child marriage could be prevented.
In recent months, Swedish authorities attempted to thwart this problem by advising children being taken abroad for a forced marriage to put a teaspoon in their underwear that would go off at airport security.
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