Forced Marriage: Why girls are more at risk in summer
For most of us, the idea of being forced by our family to marry someone we don’t love and have probably never met seems preposterous.
But when school is out, some girls may find themselves sent abroad “on holiday” – only to be forced into an unhappy and unfair marriage. Once they’re out of the country, it’s often harder to help.
That’s why the government-run Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) has launched a new campaign called Right to Choose, which encourages young people to recognise that forced marriage is a problem – and to take action before it’s too late.
“The summer holidays are a particularly dangerous time for those at risk,” says a Foreign Office spokesperson. “It is vital that young people and those working with them get help and advice before travel and before it’s too late.”
It’s shocking when you realize how many vulnerable women are affected. In the first six months of this year, the FMU gave advice in relation to 746 cases of potential forced marriage, and between January and May they were called to intervene directly in 46. A third of those cases involved victims under the age of 18.
And it doesn’t stop with marriage. Women who have been forced into marriage are frequently victims of emotional, physical and sexual abuse.
So why does it happen? Forced marriage is often defended as a cultural practice, with 46 percent of victims claiming Pakistan as their country of origin. But David Cameron spoke out in June to say that forced marriage is “little short of slavery.”
“We need to change the culture and say loudly and clearly this is unacceptable,” he told the Independent earlier this year, when he announced plans for a new law that will criminalize forced marriage.
Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as that. Experts fear that this law could stop some women coming forward as victims, as they might not want to make their parents or siblings criminals.
The government has therefore pledged an extra £500,000 to raise awareness of the issue and to help identify and protect women at risk.
Helping yourself or a friend isn’t always easy. Often, girls who escape forced marriage are completely shunned by their family and cast out of the community.
But there is help available: the FMU is on hand to provide the support necessary for victims to start their new, independent life.
If you think that you or a friend may be at risk of forced marriage, get help immediately – you may not have a second chance. You can call the confidential FMU helpline on 020 7008 0151 or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.