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British warning: Summer is forced marriage season

At least 5,000 women and girls were sent abroad to marry last year, according to a government report. Britain is toughening its stand against the practice with 'rescue’ teams, hotlines, and a new campaign to protect women.

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The first time Shazia Qayum met her husband was on their wedding day.

Duped by her parents into visiting the poor, pious, hilly district of Mirpur in Pakistani-administered Kashmir, she arrived to a village abuzz with preparations for her wedding – a ceremony she knew nothing about.

Seventeen years old, she had already refused to marry her first cousin two years earlier – an act of defiance that resulted in her being withdrawn from school by her parents.

"I couldn't believe they had brought me from Birmingham to Pakistan on such a huge lie," she says. "It crushed me."

That was more than decade ago, but government figures released today suggest the true scale of Britain's forced-marriage problem is only now beginning to emerge. It is estimated that between 5,000 and 8,000 cases of forced marriage occurred in Britain last year, according to the Department for Children, Schools, and Families.

Most are teenage girls from Britain's large Pakistani, Bangladeshi, and Indian communities. They're married off, according to the report, to bond the young women to their community, keep clan promises, or as a way to provide a British visa for a foreign family member or friend.

The figures have delivered a fresh jolt to Britain's multicultural paradigm, which until recently handled reports of forced marriage and associated "honor crimes" as cultural issues, beyond the remit of the justice system (read more Monitor coverage here).

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