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Last Updated: Tuesday, 11 March 2008, 11:21 GMT
Forced marriage problems revealed
Three hundred women trapped in forced or abusive relationships have contacted help groups in Luton in the past year, an official report has revealed.

A study of forced marriage, for the Home Office and Met Police, focusing on Luton discovered the growing problem.

The report's author Dr Nazia Khanum OBE said the authorities are only seeing the tip of the iceberg and problems may be 10 times greater than her estimate.

"Tradition and ignorance of British law makes forced marriage such a problem."

Dr Khanum, a consultant on social issues, warns about the dangers of stigmatising particular communities but hopes her study will help to end the worst of the abuses.

She said: "It is a Pandora's box in a variety of ways. But if there is a breach of human rights one has to tackle that.

You'll be targeted by your own family for what you've done
Asian community worker
"I think it can be done without stigmatizing a particularly community."

BBC Look East followed up her work by speaking to some of the women who had asked for help.

A British university student, now in hiding, who followed her parents to Pakistan on holiday found herself forced into marriage with a man interested only in her passport.

She escaped after three years and now lives in a refuge.

"I was in so much shock, that I just don't remember how it all happened," the student said.

"I can remember crying my eyes out, even on the wedding film, but nobody took that into account.

"Once they got me married, which I call 'shot off', every door was closed for me no matter who I turned to. I was told 'he's your husband you have to obey him'. I had to do what he wanted."

Expecting more cases

She admits she is hiding from her family and not her husband. Her brother has threatened to kill her because of the "dishonour" she has brought on the family.

Women's Aid in Luton took 195 calls from Asian women last year and they provided refuge for 32.

One volunteer working in the community told the BBC: "In the Asian community there is no such thing as a forced marriage it's arranged.

"The biggest fear for an Asian woman is to be an outsider. It's like being a Westerner in the Asian culture. Nobody wants to know you.

"You cannot even make friends because people say 'she's disobeyed her parents, she bought shame to her family'.

"You'll be targeted by your own family for what you've done."

We believe many more women commit suicide or self harm
Jenny Moody MBE,
Luton Women's Aid

Refuges in Luton are expecting more women to come to them for help especially among young black Africans, the fastest growing community.

Jenny Moody MBE, from Luton Women's Aid, said: "In Luton it is estimated that 300 women in forced marriages were helped in the past 12 months but there are no official figures.

"We believe many more women commit suicide or self harm. Some young women are taken out of school or simply disappear into forced marriages.

"Another group of women potentially more vulnerable are brides from abroad forced into marriage here. One agency told me they are turning away five such women a week.

"They're not even aware they are illegal, it's their husband who's held on to their passport, the women don't have any knowledge of what their status is at all."



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