Forced marriages: School holidays prompt warning

Teachers, doctors and airport staff
need to be alert to the problem of
forced marriages over the school
holidays, the government has warned.
Ministers said there were concerns about
teenagers being taken abroad thinking
they were going on holiday but being
forced into marriage instead.
Figures suggest cases are particularly
common during the summer break.
The Home Office's and Foreign Office's
Forced Marriage Unit had 400 reports
between June and August last year.
Recent estimates suggest more than
5,000 people from the UK are forced
into marriage every year.
More than a third of those affected are
aged under 16.
The government is calling for increased
awareness, and is promoting an advice
line and information cards aimed at
potential victims to explain how they can
get help.
Tougher action
Foreign Office minister Mark Simmonds
said: "The school summer holidays are
the time when young people are at the
highest risk of being taken overseas for a
forced marriage.
"'Our Marriage: It's Your Choice' cards
highlight that people who are at risk of
forced marriage know they can turn to
our Forced Marriage Unit for support,
whether they are at home or are already
abroad."
Ministers said it was wrong that
teenagers who should be thinking about
their exam results found themselves
lured into a life of fear and subservience
instead.
Aneeta Prem, founder of children's
organisation Freedom Charity, said: "It's
vital that young people travelling abroad
for a family wedding this summer realise
it could be their own wedding they'll be
going to, and know who they should
contact for help should they find
themselves in danger."
Shadow immigration minister Chris
Bryant welcomed the "raising awareness
of these issues".
"But I can't help thinking that, given it's
been weeks since pupils and teachers
started their holidays, it might have been
more useful if Jeremy Browne and his
Home Office colleagues had thought to
do this before schools broke up for the
summer," he added.
The government is also publishing plans
to follow the example of Scotland by
making forced marriage a criminal
offence in England and Wales.
This could mean parents who are found
guilty of forcing their children into
marriage face a prison sentence.
Crime prevention minister Jeremy
Browne said: "This is a serious abuse of
human rights and that is why we are
legislating to make it illegal."