THE number of Oxfordshire girls calling a forced marriage and honour abuse helpline is set to double this year.
And an Oxford Muslim leader admitted there was a problem in the city and warned the new law criminalising the practice cannot fight centuries of family tradition.
The national helpline run by charity Karma Nirvana said it had received 13 calls from Oxfordshire already this year, compared to 16 in the whole of 2013.
Forced marriage became a criminal offence in the UK on Monday, punishable by up to seven years in prison.
Oxford Imam Hojjat Ramzy said only one in 500 victims of forced marriages speaks out and the new law could not change the culture.
Dr Ramzy, director of the Oxford Islamic Information Centre, said: “There is a problem in Oxford. I get young people come to me and they have been victims of forced marriages by their fathers, even boys of 17 or 18 come to me.
“That situation, where one side doesn’t love another, is an absolute tragedy.”
But, he warned: “These are children of 15 and 16, if they tell police then their father or mother will go to prison. Do they really want to go to a foster home?”
Dr Ramzy said many families sent their children abroad to countries in Africa or South Asia where the legal age to marry was as low as 14.
Often, he said, they would not tell their children the real reason they were going.
He said change was possible, but only through a change in Islamic teaching by the religion’s highest scholars.
Project manager Anup Manota said the new law gave victims, who have been silenced by their communities, a voice.
He said: “We know there are many good people in the community and this new law gives them a voice to stand up to the community. These families operate around the concept of honour.
“If a girl has a boyfriend the parents disapprove of they might force her to marry, or practice female genital mutilation (FGM) on her.”
He said an increasing number of calls to the charity was a sign the new law was giving victims the confidence to speak out.
To contact the Karma Nirvana helpline, call 0800 5999247.
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