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Last Updated: Monday, 29 March, 2004, 01:35 GMT 02:35 UK
Lawyers 'ignore forced marriages'
Asian women
Solicitors are asked to intervene by victims, siblings and teachers
Solicitors are afraid of being branded racist if they intervene to stop forced marriages, the Law Society has said.

Chief executive Janet Paraskeva said confusion between arranged marriages and forced marriages stopped solicitors reporting incidents to the authorities.

"We want solicitors to act, not shy away from these issues," she added.

There are believed to be at least 300 forced marriages in Britain every year, and many solicitors encounter them through immigration applications.

Others are asked to intervene by the victims, their siblings or teachers.

Arranged marriages have a "long-standing and successful tradition" - but marriages without the "valid consent" of the bride or groom are "forced", the Law Society said.

Protecting people from forced marriages is a question of human rights and not a matter of different cultural traditions
Law Society chief executive Janet Paraskeva

Guidelines published by the society on Monday urge solicitors to tackle forced marriages "sensitively but robustly".

"Failure to tackle forced marriage is a failure to protect and endorse the rights of all citizens to be treated equally before the law, regardless of race, culture or religious affiliation," they add.

The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children's Asian child protection helpline manager Owais Khan said the "important and much needed guidance... will help eliminate the fears of not tackling the issue".

Ms Paraskeva said the guidelines would "help solicitors develop their knowledge of forced marriage".

"Given the sensitivity and complexity of forced marriages, it is essential solicitors give expert advice," she added.

"Protecting people from forced marriages is a question of human rights and not a matter of different cultural traditions," Ms Paraskeva said.

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22 Mar 04  |  Scotland
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28 Aug 03  |  West Midlands
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14 May 03  |  UK
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23 Apr 02  |  Scotland

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