She thought it was just a holiday. Instead this 15-year-old was being dragged away to marry

New guidelines will help girls escape arranged marriages abroad.
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The Independent Online
The Foreign Office is to issue young Muslim and Hindu women of dual nationality with an escape package to help them avoid being forced into arranged marriages.

The decision follows a succession of cases in which young British-born women have been coerced into marriage, having been told by their families that they were going on holiday.

Dr Liam Fox, Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign Office, said: "We do not accept that culture and tradition can be used as an excuse for what we consider to be abuses on moral and human-rights grounds.

"Not all countries see this issue in the same way as us, so you cannot always depend upon the co-operation or support of other governments.

"It is therefore important to concentrate on alerting young people to the measures they can take to protect themselves: prevention is the key."

The women are advised always to travel on their British passports and to keep a list of emergency telephone numbers to call for help. They are also advised to tell a close friend of their expected return date so that the friend can alert the Foreign Office if necessary.

Ishya Mohammed, 15, a Cardiff schoolgirl, was taken on what was ostensibly a holiday in Yemen. The girl's mother, Marie Davies, alerted the Foreign Office in May after hearing nothing for three months.

Ishya's brother, Razaz, 19, then arrived at the British embassy in Aden, claiming that family members were trying to force him and his sister into arranged marriages.

At first the Foreign Office warned: "By virtue of her dual nationality she is now deemed to be a Yemeni national in Yemeni eyes and Britain has no direct responsibility or locus as far as they are concerned." Nevertheless after negotiations between British and Yemeni authorities both teenagers were returned to Wales.

Two Glasgow sisters, Nazia and Rifat Haq, were forced into arranged marriages after travelling to Pakistan on a family holiday last year. When they arrived they were surrounded by a group of men and forced into three cars. After a fortnight in captivity, Rifat, then 20, was made to marry a 27-year-old cousin and Nazia, then 13, was made to marry a man of 40.

The girls' brother Nadeem, 17, raised the alarm after theyhad been abucted, and a campaign was started in Glasgow to bring them home.Their nine-month ordeal ended in March when the British high commission intervened and issued the girls new passports which they used to return to Britain.

The Foreign Office is now advising women who may be at risk to make a note of their passport number and its place of issue and keep it safe in case their passport is confiscated; they are also advised to visit their local library before departure to get the address of the British diplomatic mission nearest to where they will be staying. As a last resort, they are told to inform on their "arranged husbands" if the couple return to live in Britain. "If you have been forced into a marriage you should let the entry clearance officer know the true position as soon as possible."

The forced-marriage advice warns: "Some young British nationals have travelled abroad for a specific family reason only to find themselves in completely different, unexpected and unacceptable circumstances, including being forced into marriage under duress."

The guidelines, in a document called Your Rights Abroad, will be made available at airports, citizens' advice bureaux, and libraries. They will be issued this month as part of the Foreign Office's campaign to inform people of what consuls can and cannot do for Britons abroad.

The countries where most forced marriage cases occur are Pakistan, India, Yemen, Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco. Britain is anxious to resolve such disputes without confrontation with the host country.

Selma Rahman, project co-ordinator of the Meridian women's centre in Glasgow, said a clear distinction should be drawn between arranged marriages and forced marriages.

She said: "Neither Islam nor the Hindu religion condones or expects women to be married against their will. Both religions expect women to be consulted, participating and agreeing to the marriage. Women have the right to say no."