British Somali teenagers are being taken back to their parents’ homeland under the pretense of going on a holiday. However, some end up being taken to “re-education” schools in Somalia and forced into marriage.
The UK Home Office says it is aware of the problem, explaining that these schools are not teaching academic material and that teenagers are often subjected to physical, sexual, and mental abuse.
David Myers, joint head of the Home Office’s forced marriage unit said, “What we are seeing in these communities is that young people who have antisocial behaviour issues, are getting involved in gangs and drugs, and are being sent back to Somalia by their parents for re-education and rehabilitation.”
The Guardian reports:
“The concept in Somali culture, dhaqan celis, means returning to the culture to help them rehabilitate and they are sent to what they call schools but what we call detention centres,” said Myers.
“These teenagers and children are told that the only way they can escape these centres is to get married to another Somalian and that is where the forced marriage element comes into it.”
The latest figures show there has been a 100% year-on-year increase in the number of forced marriage cases handled by Home Office involving Somali children and teenagers. In 2017, the figure rose to 91, more than India.
Myers said: “The Somalia case is unusual. Traditionally, when you look at these cases you always think of South Asian communities but the Somalian community is a new and emerging community in the UK and the second generation are coming of age.”
When The Guardian spoke with UK-based Somali organizations, most denied that forced marriage was taking place, saying that the practice was being misinterpreted.
Abdillahi Abokor, a British Somali national who moved back to Somalia after living in London explained, “It is true that parents are bringing their children back here, but there is a reason for this. They are bringing them back so they learn that the life that they have in the UK is the wrong life.”
“Parents do get them married but I wouldn’t say it is forced. It is arranged and their lifestyle is changed.”
He acknowledged hearing of a recent case where two British Somali girls went to the British embassy to report being abused at these “re-education” schools. However, he says their claims are made up.
“The girls did not like the lifestyle here so they had to make a plan to go back,” he said. “They had to make a story up to get back.”