London: A new government-funded smartphone app has been launched in Britain to protect potential victims at risk of being forced into marriage, including those of Indian-origin.
The 'Freedom' app has been designed with inputs from Scotland Yard to coincide with new figures released by the Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) that indicate that youngsters between the age group of 16 and 25 fall in the high-risk category.
"In accessing the Freedom app, the user is just two clicks away from getting life-saving help. It is a fact that girls and boys of Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi-origin are most at risk of being forced into marriages, when often all they want is to be able to complete their education," said
Aneeta Prem, founder of the Freedom Charity, which has created the free-to-download app on www.freedom.org.uk.
"Hence it is all the more important to create worldwide awareness on the issue and we will also be travelling to India in the next few weeks," Prem said.
According to the 2012 statistics released by the FMU here, the maximum number of calls for help came from victims of Pakistani origin (47.1 per cent), followed by Bangladeshi (11 per cent) and Indian (8 per cent).
"We are not against arranged marriage, which is very different from forced marriages that are often linked to domestic violence. These youngsters are often brought up in two contrasting cultures, which creates the problem," Prem added.
A two-year-old girl was among at least 250 children in the UK helped last year by the FMU, which is a joint initiative between the Home Office and Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).
The 1,485 cases handled by the unit largely centred around London (21 per cent), followed by the West Midlands (16 per cent) but it is feared there are far more cases that go unreported.
The figures also showed 114 cases involved people with disabilities and 22 involved victims who described themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans-gender.
"Forcing someone to marry is an appalling and indefensible practice which is why the government is committed to eliminating it, with young people particularly vulnerable. We will use every means at our disposal, whether it's engaging with schools and communities or through using mobiles and
social media to reach potential victims," said Mark Simmonds, FCO minister for consular policy.
A government survey carried out in 2009 estimated that between 5,000 and 8,000 young people are pressed into early or forced marriage each year in the UK.
Although most victims are of South Asian origin, the practice can also be found in other ethnic groups including Turkish, Greek, African, Arab and people from former Soviet republics.
Though it is not yet illegal, civil courts in the UK have the power to prevent such weddings from taking place by issuing Forced Marriage Protection orders.