WOMEN WHO FLEE THE 'FEAR OF MARRIAGE'

IT is estimated that up to a dozen young women from Aylesbury have been threatened with forced marriages and as a result have fled their families and the town in fear.

Forced marriages among ethnic minorities affect hundreds of young people in towns across the UK every year, and Aylesbury is no exception.

Young women and men are sometimes violently forced to marry a partner of their family s choice, in order to uphold cultural traditions.

And to help the victims of such marriages, some of whom choose to cut all ties from their family and home town, Aylesbury police officers are being advised on how to deal with the sensitive issue.

At a meeting on Monday, police chiefs met with Foreign Office and Racial Equality Council representatives to discuss how best victims can be advised and supported.

The majority of individuals among ethnic minority communities are luckier. They take part in arranged marriages where the choice whether or not to accept the arrangements remains with the individuals.

But in forced marriages the individuals are given no choice. In some circumstances teenage girls have been given a one way air ticket overseas and sent on the pretence that they will be visiting a sick relative.

Insp Simon Pont at Thames Valley Police, attended Monday s meeting where a draft of guidelines was established to assist officers and related agencies, in dealing with cases of forced marriage.

Insp Pont said: The meeting was part of a series of regional consultations to discuss guidelines that the foreign office has produced.

We want to deal with this issue properly. The cases are very sensitive and emotionally charged. This is not about attacking arranged marriages which are very different from forced marriages.

A forced marriage is a breach of human rights, unless both parties consent, the marriage is null and void. Part of this process is to make sure officers understand how to offer advice and knowing which agencies to contact.

More than 200 forced marriages are reported in England and Wales each year. This is not solely an Asian problem, there are also cases involving families from East Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa.

As a result many women become trapped in years of abuse. Due to a lack of family support and language barriers, they do not have the confidence to leave.

A committee, led by the Aylesbury Vale Racial Equality Council is currently planning an Autumn conference to discuss and raise awareness about forced marriages.

Aylesbury District Councillor Tasleem Yasin sits on the committee. Mrs Yasin says awareness needs to be raised.

I am a great supporter of arranged marriages, they have a lower divorce rate than love marriages. I do not agree with forced marriages. I think we can work on educating the people and differentiating between arranged and forced marriages. Force is not a way of life it is against the law. The parents need to be educated and hopefully the youngsters can be involved too. Parents do think they are doing the best for their children and they are not actually wilfully destroying people s lives.

Cllr Nazar Mohammad said he sees young women from India or Pakistan who marry Asian men in England and become little more than scullery maids .

This is an issue that needs to be addressed. Often these women speak very little English they are alone and cannot seek a way out.

Ranjula Takodra, an Aylesbury women s project leader at Aylesbury Vale Racial Equality Council, was at Monday s meeting. Mrs Takodra says that forced marriages are a problem in Aylesbury.

We are looking at how the police can help if somebody arrived at the front desk and said they were being forced to marry. I am quite proud of the relationship that we have in Aylesbury with the police, when there is a problem we work together.

In forced marriages, the parties are not agreeable to the marriage, said Mrs Takodra, They are threatened or blackmailed into the marriage. But arranged marriages are very different, and they do often work.

Nobody is pointing fingers at anybody here, sometimes parents think they are doing the right thing for their child. And we want to educate the parents.

The issue doesn t only affect women, there are also young men who are very reluctant. Sometimes they are as young as 18, they are still children. It is their time to be out enjoying themselves.

Denise Edmunds at Aylesbury Women s Aid, sees women from all over the country who have fled forced marriages seeking refuge at the Aylesbury hostel. She said: I think it is just as difficult for them to come to us as it is for victims of domestic violence. Some are quite young women who have to leave their families and they are alone.