A school teacher who starred in a film about integrating immigrant children into her classes says girls as young as 12 are being forced into marriage when they return to their native countries on holiday.
Kiet Engels, who was featured in an acclaimed documentary film, The Children of Miss Kiet, teaches at a primary school in Hapert, a small town near the city of Eindhoven in the Dutch province of North Brabant.
The film won glowing reviews at International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam in 2016 and Miss Engels became famous for the empathy she showed to the children of immigrant families.
But she has now decided to speak out on her fears that girls as young as 12 are being forced into marriage when they visit their native countries on holiday.
Miss Engels said: “The children about whom I talking are really young, they are still at primary school. They have a Dutch passport and thus can travel. Their parents abuse that by taking them against their will to their native country.
“Particularly in African countries this can be dangerous, especially for girls. They are forced to marry and sometimes even get pregnant. They cannot return to the Netherlands, no matter how much they want to.”
Miss Kiet explained that while forced marriages were a known problem among secondary schoolchildren, it was now also happening with girls at primary schools which take pupils up to the age of 12 in the Netherlands.
She said: “This just happens, in the Netherlands! Under the guise of ‘we’re going on holiday’ the children are left behind with their families.
“These children often no longer speak the language, are not used to the culture in which they end up and face difficulties to settle there.
“Actually they are just sold, married off. As a teen they are sometimes already a mother.”
She added: “I want to warn schools. You think it’s not that bad, but it happens right under your nose.
“The government could say: children from high-risk countries only get a passport when they are 18. It is just an idea.”
Diny Flierman, of the Dutch Centre of Forced Marriage and Abandonment (LKHA), which works with the government to help victims, said she had never heard about children so young being married off.
But she added that Miss Kiet’s warning should be taken seriously, adding: “It’s an invisible problem. Invisible and immensely complex, but so damaging for children.”