The issue of forced marriages has been traditionally treated with hesitation by governments, for fear of offending cultural sensitivities.
But more information about the nature of forced marriages and a clearer understanding of cultural values has brought the subject under governmental scrutiny, and in November 2008 laws to prevent forced marriages and protect the victims of forced marriages came into force in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Forced marriages are not the same as arranged marriages.
An arranged marriage is performed with the full and free consent of both parties and is still the chosen practise for many people all over the world.
Forced marriages are a result of cultural factors, and no major religion in the world advocates forced marriages.
A forced marriage is a marriage conducted without the consent of one or both parties, where pressure is a factor.
In 2000, a government working group to tackle the issue of forced marriages emphasized the important distinction between forced and arranged marriages.
"The tradition of arranged marriage has operated successfully within many communities and many countries for a long time and remains the preferred choice of many young people.Working Group: Forced Marriages - 'A Choice by Right', June 2000
Although it is not known exactly how many people each year are forced into marriages, in the first nine months of 2008, the UK's Forced Marriage handled more than 1,300 cases in which there were concerns someone was about to be forced into marriage, or already had been. Pressures
Hannana Siddiqui says: "There is a whole spectrum of pressure placed on young girls ranging from subtle, emotional pressure or harassment, threats of violence, abduction, rape and even murder."
A number of young people are often tricked into going abroad, but when they arrive, are forced into marrying someone pre-arranged by the family.
However, some parents do not realise that forcing someone to get married is unacceptable, and it is this cultural trend which has in the past prevented the authorities from getting involved.
This is further complicated by some families not realising that they are putting undue pressure on the young person involved, as it is regarded as a normal part of their culture.
But Mike O'Brien, Minister for Racial Equality, stated in 1999 that "The government must respond sensitively to the issues of cultural diversity, but multicultural sensitivity is no excuse for moral blindness." Demographics
Forced marriage affects men and women from all over the world, and across many cultural groups. The British Royal Family even has a history of it, as did many members of the British aristocracy in the past. It is important to understand that it is not limited to just a few cultural groups, although it does usually affect women who are of South Asian origin.Reference:: Sikh Philosophy Network http://www.sikhphilosophy.net/arts-and-society/26268-forced-marriages.htmlReference:: Sikh Philosophy Network http://www.sikhphilosophy.net/showthread.php?t=26268
Most victims are young women between the ages of 14 - 25, but only those who are aged 16 and over get married in this country. Girls who are much younger are sometimes taken to other countries and made to marry whilst there. Men can be victims too
Men are also affected, although information for this is even more limited than for women, due to underreporting. Men are not always subject to the same cultural expectations as women, so the number of forced marriage instances for men is much lower.