LONDON (AFP) - The British government on Saturday warned teachers, doctors and airport staff to be on alert for a rise in forced marriages over the school summer holidays.
Summer marks a peak in reports of young people - mainly girls - being taken abroad on "holiday", not knowing their families are forcing them into a marriage, the Interior Ministry said.
Britain's Forced Marriage Unit dealt with some 1,500 cases last year, a third of them involving children aged under 17. In nearly half the cases, the victims were taken to Pakistan.
"The rise in forced marriage reports over the school holidays is shocking," said Crime Prevention Minister Jeremy Browne.
"Teenagers expecting their GCSE or A-level (exam) results should be embarking on a bright future, not condemned to a marriage with someone they have never met and do not want to marry.
"My message to young people who feel they are at risk is, please come forward - you do not have to suffer in silence, there is help available and it can be stopped."
The Forced Marriage Unit is handing out cards this summer providing information for potential victims, telling them to speak to the police or airline staff if they believe they are being taken to be married against their will.
But the opposition Labour party said the warning might have been more helpful if it was issued before schools broke up for the holidays.
The Forced Marriage Unit said the victims it had dealt with last year were taken to 60 countries, including Bangladesh (11 per cent), India (8 per cent) and Afghanistan (2.1 per cent).
In 18 per cent of cases, the victim was male.
The government announced plans last year to introduce new laws for England and Wales that would see parents sent to jail if they force their children into a marriage.