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Thursday, 14 June, 2001, 14:16 GMT 15:16 UK
Forced marriage victims 'need more help'
Asian women
More than 1,000 UK women a year are forced to marry
Three sisters who escaped forced marriages have pleaded for more help for victims from police and the Foreign Office.

Narina Anwar, 22, and her sisters Samina, 20, and Raisa, 15, had to flee in a rickshaw after being tricked into visiting Pakistan for the ceremonies.

Ms Anwar wept as she told a Metropolitan Police-led seminar on the issue that young women needed to know how to get help.


There are a number of men who are also tricked into forced marriages, men who are coerced into going abroad

Commander Carole Howlett, Metropolitan Police

Every year more than 1,000 British women are tricked into travelling abroad only to be forced into marriages with strangers, according to Home Office figures.

An unknown number of men are also forced to marry.

Women with families from Pakistan, Bangladesh and India are most likely to be affected.

But the practice is also found among those with African and Middle Eastern roots.

The seminar, organised by the Metropolitan Police, was aimed at drawing up consistent policy guidelines for all forces when dealing with the issue.

A Home Office report last year recommended that such marriages be treated like domestic violence or child abuse and called on the police to do more to stop them.

Held prisoner

Ms Anwar, from Bolton, Greater Manchester, told the seminar how the three sisters went to Pakistan last June after their mother told them their grandmother was ill.


It was a life or death experience. We thought we would die trying to escape

Narina Anwar, forced marriage escapee
But it was the beginning of a five-month ordeal which saw them held prisoner by family members in a remote of Kashmir.

Choking back tears, she said: "It was a life or death experience. We thought we would die trying to escape."

They sent letters back to friends in England but they were intercepted by their family.

The sisters finally escaped while their captors were at a funeral, dressing in Muslim veils and embarking on a perilous journey by rickshaw and taxi to the city of Lahore.

There they were put up in a hotel by the British High Commission and returned to Britain days later, where they lived for six months in a women's refuge.

Ms Anwar, who now lives apart from her family with her sisters and is attending university, said: "It pains me to think that there are girls who are still in that situation.

"They may be in Pakistan or Bangladesh for years without even being able to come home."

Samina Anwar called on the authorities to set up a dedicated hotline for victims of forces marriages.

Cultural differences

The Met's Forced Marriage Project Team has already started a research and consultation process to identify the scale of the problem.

The project began after the Foreign Office decided to fund initiatives to examine the issue nationally.

But the Thursday seminar heard that the Foreign Office had failed forced marriage victims in the past by being overly sensitive to cultural differences.


We have used excuses to avoid getting involved, from a misplaced notion of cultural sensitivity to differences attendant on dual nationality. But things have changed

Matthew Gould, Foreign Office
Deputy head of consular division Matthew Gould said: "We have failed some of the young people who have turned to us for help.

"We have used excuses to avoid getting involved, from a misplaced notion of cultural sensitivity to differences attendant on dual nationality. But things have changed."

Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner designate Bernard Hogan-Howe called for a consistent approach between the police, the Foreign Office, the Home Office and other agencies.

And Commander Carole Howlett, of the Met's Serious Crime Group, stressed that "the hidden phenomenon" affected men as well as women.

"There are a number of men who are also tricked into forced marriages, men who are coerced into going abroad."

She said these men and women had "no choice in the matter", adding "it is about supporting victims of sexual and physical abuse and about helping individuals who literally have nowhere else to go."

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16 Aug 99 | UK
Forced into wedlock
05 Aug 99 | UK Politics
Forced marriage clampdown welcomed
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