LONDON – The British government has launched a new campaign against forced marriages, a common practice among the Asian community in Britain. The purpose of the campaign is to create awareness against the practice as an abuse of human rights and a form of domestic violence. The campaign, launched by the Home Office and Foreign and Commonwealth Office forced marriage unit (FMU), contain a series of radio and Press advertisements, TV fillers and posters. Leading British actors like Meera Syal and Ameet Chana are spearheading the campaign. “Forced marriage affects children, teenagers and adults from all races and religions, including Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims and Sikhs,” says Baroness Scotland QC, Home Office Minister. “And it is not solely an issue facing Asian communities. We deal with cases in the Middle East, western Balkans and Africa. Forced marriage is a form of domestic violence and a human rights abuse. The victims often face emotional and physical abuse. We are determined to help young people at risk and protect their right to choose whom they marry.” The new campaign aims to increase awareness of the issues surrounding forced marriage. It will highlight the difference between forced and arranged marriage, and make clear that forced marriage is an abuse of human rights and a form of domestic violence. The campaign will also publicise the support available to young people affected by forced marriage and encourage them to seek help. It will highlight the damaging emotional consequences to families and the crimes involved in forcing someone into marriage. “We increasingly have to tackle complex issues such as forced marriage in the UK and overseas and we want to highlight that there is help available for people who are facing this abuse of human rights,” says Lord Triesman, Foreign & Commonwealth Office Minister for Consular Policy. “The joint forced marriage unit, which has recently celebrated its first anniversary, engages more widely than ever before to deliver effective support to people forced into marriages. We remain committed to providing confidential support and practical assistance for those at risk of being forced into marriage here and abroad.” Celebrated author and actress Meera Syal said the marriage is a bond between two individuals and it needs consent from both the parities. “This is an extremely important campaign for all members of the community – young and old,” says Meera. “For young people, they need to know that there is help out there and that it is okay to ask for help. And we want the older generations to know that we respect their culture, tradition and we understand that arranged marriages have a place in society. But there is a vast difference between an arranged and a forced marriage – consent.” “I, probably like most people, believed that only women were affected and forced into marriage, but I was amazed to find that 15 per cent of the cases that are currently reported to the unit are men,” says dormer Eastenders star Ameet Chana. “I bet that the numbers are far greater, but it’s hard for men to come forward and admit they need help and are being forced into a situation like this. This campaign is a key to reassuring them that they are not alone and help is available.” Around 250 forced marriages are made known to the government every year, but there is believed to be a massive number of unreported cases. In around 85 per cent of cases the victims are women, with some girls as young as 13. The issue is not only linked to so-called honour killings, where families take revenge on individuals who resist their wishes, but a high suicide rate among young Asian women.