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Schoolgirls in Finland forced abroad for arranged marriages

Pupils from at least one school in western Finland have been forced into marriages. So far Finland has not specifically banned the practice.

Voimavarakeskuksen johtaja Natalie Gerbert.
Natalie Gerbert Image: Yle

Yle has learned that girls from immigrant families at a school in Western Finland have been sent abroad into forced marriages. Teachers say they are aware of the situation but are unable to do anything about it.

“I've encountered situations where marriages have already been arranged for girls who’ve come here from elsewhere. Some of them are actually pleased with the situation, but there are some who want to continue their studies,” says a teacher at the school.

The teacher points out that not all youngsters from other cultures are aware of Finland’s equality standards.

“In some cases, girls who’ve been subjected to genital mutilation open up to Finnish adults about the pain they have experienced. You get the feeling that this is not right. It’s not according to any religion, it’s a cultural thing,” the teacher says.

Should forced marriage be criminalised?

Under Finnish law, forced marriage can be defined as human trafficking and therefore as a crime -- but not a single case has so far been investigated.

“We receive 15-20 inquiries annually about forced marriage. But these cases are kind of hidden, so we can assume that these are just the tip of the iceberg,” says Natalie Gerbert of the Monika Multicultural Women’s Association of Finland, an umbrella organization for groups of women of ethnic minorities.

“The youngest girl that we have heard about in an arranged marriage case was 13,” says Gerbert. "She had to leave the country."

Gerbert says that some girls have moved to Finland through arranged marriages, and feel extremely lonely here.

The organisation is calling for specific legislation criminalising forced marriages in Finland.

“The Istanbul Convention, which the Finnish government has signed, requires the criminalisation of forced marriage. Norway and Denmark, for instance, have already outlawed it,” notes Gerbert.

The Istanbul Convention, formally known as the Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, was launched by the Council of Europe in 2011.

It has so far been signed by 32 nations. However only seven European countries have ratified it, short of the 10 required for it to come into force. Finland and Sweden signed it in May 2011 but have yet to ratify it.

Wednesday was UN Children's Rights Day.

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