Scores of people with learning difficulties are being forced into marriages against their will every year, government figures have revealed.
Last year, 35 people with learning difficulties, as well as 14 disabled people with physical impairments, contacted a government helpline set up to deal with the problem of forced marriages.
But the figures under-estimate the true scale of the problem, as the figures only represent those who used the helpline.
The statistics were revealed at the launch of a new easy-read booklet designed to help prevent forced marriages involving people with learning difficulties, increase the reporting of such cases, and provide support to people struggling with the problem.
The booklet – Am I Being Forced to Marry? – was published by the charity Respond, which provides psychotherapy and counselling to people with learning difficulties who have been abused.
Much of the work was carried out by members of the Respond Action Group, who all have learning difficulties and act as expert advisors to the charity.
Harry Reynolds, a member of the action group, said that forcing someone to marry against their will was “a form of abuse and must stop”.
He said that both men and women with learning difficulties are being forced to marry.
June Patterson, another member of the action group, said it was important that disabled campaigners were able to spread the message about how people with learning difficulties are affected by forced marriages.
Mandy Sanghera, an activist who has been involved in more than 100 cases of forced marriage of people with learning difficulties over the last 15 years, said such marriages were about “abuse of your human rights”.
She said: “A lot of decisions about their lives are made by their family and friends. They think they know what’s best for a person with a learning difficulty but people with learning difficulties have a right to a life of their own.”
Roxanna Whittaker, a case worker with the government’s Forced Marriage Unit, which funded the booklet, said some parents forced their child with learning difficulties into a marriage to provide them with a carer, to help other people with claims for residence and citizenship, or to ensure land remains within the family, among other reasons.
More than half of the cases dealt with last year by the unit concerned families of Pakistani origin, although there were cases from across many different ethnic groups, she added.
25 October 2010