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Page last updated at 13:27 GMT, Friday, 10 September 2010 14:27 UK
Forced marriage on the increase in Lancashire
hands chained together
Forced marriage is a form of human rights abuse

Figures from the Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) reveal the number of forced marriages in Lancashire is on the rise.

Olaf Henricson-Bell, joint head of the FMU in London, says they have seen a real increase since the unit was set up in 2005.

Already this year the FMU have provided advice and support in 1,100 reportings of possible forced marriage.

But the full scale is likely to be much higher given the underground nature of the practice.

Last year there were 1,682 reports and of those 17% are related to the north west.

'Tragic story'

"The tragic story is that many more don't come to the attention of either ourselves or other people who could provide the help that's required," says Henricson-Bell.

Lancashire Police is one of the country's leading police forces in dealing with the violence linked to forced marriage.

They advise other forces and agencies and have a dedicated Forced Marriage Unit based in Burnley.

Detective Inspector Phil Turner manages a team of officers who investigate and deal with forced marriage and honour-based violence offences.

He says there's nothing wrong with arranged marriages but the problem starts when they don't get the true consent: "Girls feel obliged and put under so much pressure to go through with the ceremony and they feel they ought to do it for the family.

"Quite often if they don't go through with the ceremony the community may view the family in a different light."

What is forced marriage?

Forced marriage is not to be confused with arranged marriage. The latter involves the parents or community taking a leading role in identifying a spouse, but leaves the choice of whether to accept the match to the two individuals concerned.

In a forced marriage this is not the case. One or both of the spouses does not consent to the marriage and duress is involved.

Sometimes this takes the form of physical violence, while in other cases it is predominantly emotional pressure such as threats of suicide by family members if the marriage is not concluded.

Olaf Henricson-Bell
Olaf Henricson-Bell is joint head of the FMU in London

Forced marriage is a form of human rights abuse and when it happens to minors is child abuse.

In many cases, forced marriage involves rape and other forms of sexual assault.

The marriages often continue to be abusive and it's even been known for victims to be killed for trying to escape the situation.

Even where such extreme violence does not take place, the impact of a forced marriage is shocking.

The victims are usually not allowed to return to education or to work and may be locked in the family home to prevent them from seeking help.

They lose the chance to choose how their life is going to be lived, and who they will share it with.

Why does it happen and who does it happen to?

There is no typical victim.

While the majority of the FMU's cases are linked to Southern Asia, the unit also works on cases related to the Middle East, North and Sub-Saharan Africa and Eastern Europe.

Many victims are aged between 15 and 24, but some are as young as nine and others have been over 50. Within the UK, most, though not all cases occur in urban areas.

The motivations for perpetrators of forced marriage are as various as their victims.

Often the key factor will be control; this may involve controlling behaviour or dress that is seen to be unacceptable or controlling perceived expressions of sexuality including homosexuality.

In other cases financial considerations loom large, including the retention of land within the family or the securing of a visa for a family member.

In many cases, honour is an underlying factor.

The marriage may be seen as a way to restore lost honour or be pushed for against the wishes of a young person because of an agreement made between parents years or even decades before.

A small number of cases involve people with learning disabilities or other support needs who may be married because parents want to find a carer for their son or daughter, or because they want to remove the stigma of disability.




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