Pupils taught to help classmates at risk of ‘honour’ violence

Bright Choices leader Angela Voulgari.
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Pupils are being taught how to help classmates at risk of honour-based violence under a pioneering programme being rolled out in two Scottish schools.

Edinburgh secondary schools Leith Academy and Drummond Community High School have held sessions highlighting crimes linked to the supposed protection of ­traditional cultural or religious beliefs, including forced marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM).

The classes have been led by Bright Choices, an award-winning support service for victims of honour-based violence, and talks are under way to extend the sessions across the city.

Angela Voulgari, who leads Bright Choices for leading community justice organisation Sacro, said that the sessions with S2 and S3 pupils focus on the children’s human rights.

She said the issues involved are discussed clearly but with sensitivity, with children being told how to seek help if they fear their rights are being breached by cultural or religious traditions.

Ms Voulgari said: “In many communities, FGM happens when girls are babies, in others when they are six or seven.

“We are very aware that we could be coming into a school and talking to a group of children where some of the girls may be survivors of honour-based violence.

“A lot of the practices we are talking about happen at a young age and, if they don’t, there is, and I use the word carefully, a ‘grooming’ that can take place during childhood and adolescence.”

Ms Voulgari, a psychotherapist, said the class might also include children currently at risk and their friends.

She added: “There may be many children with special knowledge or potential interest in these issues, but the fundamental message is the same.

“We want every pupil to know there is help if something does not feel right or look right – something like a friend being taken out of the country, apparently against her will, for example.

“We give the young people a lot of options about where they can go and who they can speak to if they suspect something is wrong.”

The classroom module, which can be tailored to be delivered in a single session or over a number of lessons, is called My Life, My Choices. So far it has been taught at schools with a relatively higher number of pupils from ethnic minorities, but Ms Voulgari said the programme does not does not criticise any culture or religion.

The Edinburgh Child Protection Committee confirmed that it is working with Bright Choices and other organisations.

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