Page last updated at 01:14 GMT, Friday, 9 January 2009

Forced marriage law 'being used'

By Adam Pasternicki
Politics Reporter, BBC Asian Network

Karma Nivana support group
Karma Nirvana said it had seen an increase in calls to its support line

New powers to protect suspected forced marriage victims have been used six times since the law was introduced, the BBC Asian Network has found.

The law, which came into effect in November, means anyone found guilty of forcing someone into marriage against their will can be jailed or fined.

In one case NHS doctor Humayra Abedin claimed she was tricked into going to Bangladesh and made to marry.

Judges have ruled she cannot be removed from Britain again without her consent.

Injunctions were issued against Dr Abedin's parents, a paternal uncle and the man she was allegedly forced to marry.

One charity said it had taken many more calls about forced marriage since the case made the news.

Jasvinder Sanghera, head of support group Karma Nirvana, said: "The law was announced on 25 November.

"Since then the number of calls we have been taking has tripled."

Her parents lock up every single room and window before they go out of the house, so she's got no way of leaving
Shazia Qayum, Karma Nirvana

Anne-Marie Hutchinson, Dr Abedin's lawyer, said she had also noticed more activity.

"The past three months, in this area of the law, have seen an increase in cases.

"That may be connected to the fact that more young people feel able to come forward."

Karma Nirvana said they had had a number of calls in the past week - including contact from five teenage girls who said they had not been allowed to return to school since the Christmas holidays.

They said they feared they were about to be flown to Asia and forced to marry imminently.

Shazia Qayum, from Karma Nirvana, said she was particularly concerned about one girl, who felt she was on the verge of being taken to Pakistan.

"Her parents lock up every single room and window before they go out of the house, so she's got no way of leaving.

"She has four older brothers who believe if their sister brings any dishonour onto the family, they don't want to repeat what they'll do to her."

Forced marriage is believed to be under-reported, with some victims finding it hard to inform the authorities about what their families want them to do.

Ms Hutchinson said she felt there were likely to be more applications made under the Forced Marriage Protection Act this year.

I would hope we'll see better implementation (of the law), and victims and potential victims being made to feel that they can come forward, and that they will come forward and seek access to justice.

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