Solicitors told they must protect women from forced marriages

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Solicitors are to be given new guidance to help them save young women from forced marriages. The Law Society's move follows concern that lawyers are not intervening because they fear being branded racist.

Solicitors are to be given new guidance to help them save young women from forced marriages. The Law Society's move follows concern that lawyers are not intervening because they fear being branded racist.

At least 300 forced marriages, many with victims under 16, are thought to be performed in Britain each year.

The guidelines say that "failure to tackle forced marriage is a failure to protect and endorse the rights of all citizens to be treated equally before the law, regardless of race, culture or religious affiliation."

The guidelines spell out the difference between arranged and forced marriages. Arranged marriages have a long and successful tradition - forced marriage is conducted without the valid consent of bride or groom.

Under the guidance, solicitors are reminded that forced marriage is not an issue confined to any particular culture.

The authorities have long battled to stop under-age girls being taken to their countries of origin to be married off by their parents. But recent investigations have found that a growing number are being married in Britain. These have become known as "community marriages".

Ann Cryer, the MP for Keighley, who led Labour's action plan on forced marriages, wants to create similar guidelines for under-age marriages.

Guidelines concerning child protection procedures and forced marriages were given to every police station and social service office in 2001, but officials admit they frequently fail to reach those on the front line.