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UK issues forced marriage alert during school holidays

world Updated: Aug 10, 2013 18:11 IST

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The UK government has issued an alert for teachers, doctors and airport staff to be vigilant toward the problem of forced marriages of teenagers with origins in the Indian subcontinent during school holidays.

It is feared that British teenagers, mostly with origins in the Indian subcontinent, are taken abroad on the pretext of a holiday and then forced into marriage instead.

Figures suggest cases are particularly common during the summer break as the government's Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) received 400 reports between June and August 2012.

"The school summer holidays are the time when young people are at the highest risk of being taken overseas for a forced marriage," foreign office minister Mark Simmonds said.

"'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," he said in a statement.

According to 2012 statistics, the maximum number of calls for help came from victims of Pakistani origin (47.1%), followed by Bangladeshi (11%) and Indian (8%).

The FMU is now handing out the advice cards to provide help and information to potential victims, pointing them to confidential advice.

Earlier this year, the FMU revealed it helped in 1,485 cases of possible forced marriage last year, involving 60 countries across Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Europe and North America.

"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," said Aneeta Prem, founder of children's organisation Freedom Charity.

The government is also publishing plans to follow the example of Scotland by criminalising breaches of forced marriage protection orders in England and Wales.

This could mean parents found guilty of forcing their children into marriage may face a prison sentence.

"This is a serious abuse of human rights and that is why we are legislating to make it illegal," said Crime Prevention minister Jeremy Browne.