The UK government has issued a warning over the summer holidays over the increased risk of young gay men and women being forced into marriage.
According to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, summer holidays are the peak time for young people to be taken overseas and forced into a marriage against their will.
Between January and June 2012, of the 747 instances where the Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) gave advice or support related to a possible forced marriage, 10 involved victims who identified as LGBT, equating to around two a month.
However, this only monitors people who declared their sexuality and the actual figure could be more.
An expert told Gay Star News: ‘In families where they suspect that one of the children may well be LGBT, sadly because of the stigma of being gay, they fear that it will bring shame on the family and force the child or the young person into marriage.’
In some cases, victims are taken on what they have been told is a holiday to visit family abroad, but in fact a marriage has been planned. Once abroad, they are often even more isolated than they might have been in the UK and getting help is more difficult.
To raise awareness of the risks and the help available, three hard-hitting films have been developed, reminding young people to speak up if they think they or someone they are close to are in danger.
Alistair Burt, Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister, said forced marriage ‘should not be tolerated’.
‘Young people have the right to choose whether to marry, who to marry, and when,’ he said.
‘Anybody worried that they or a friend are at risk of being forced into marriage abroad should seek advice before it’s too late. There may be only one chance to save yourself or someone else from a life they did not choose.’
The FMU’s Right to Choose campaign aims to stress that while it might be difficult to admit that you’re at risk, forced marriage can and does happen and doing nothing is not the answer.
The government initiative wants young people and professionals working with them to speak out about forced marriage and seek advice and help before potential victims are taken abroad.
Amy Cumming, joint head of the FMU, said forced marriage has a ‘devastating’ impact on individuals.
She said: ‘Many of the victims who contact us have experienced horrendous sexual and physical violence. They endure intense pressure in many forms – whether emotional, financial or otherwise.
‘Forced marriage affects many communities and cultures. Today, I’m strongly urging people to back the Right to Choose campaign.’
The public can show their support for the campaign by tweeting using the hashtag #RightToChoose
Learn how to spot the signs of forced marriage by watching the video below: