by Ghayasuddin Siddiqui Several years ago, when I finished speaking to an audience in a mosque in Birmingham on why it was wrong to force children into marriage without their consent, a man came forward and said, ‘I wish you had come six months earlier, I forced my son to marry my brother’s daughter. They are now separated.As a consequence relations between my brother’s family and me are also broken,’ he said. I had spoken in that mosque several times before, but often the advice was ignored because it was thought that I was giving ‘wrong’ ideas to young people.This story is repeated all over the United Kingdom in patriarchal families where parents think that children are their property; it is their responsibility to decide about the future of their children. In such families healthy debate between parents and their children on life choices are always absent. When children disagree, they are emotionally blackmailed, harassed and intimidated. Unable to resist, many young people give in to parental pressure and accept the life of misery. But things are changing. Many former victims have come together to form self–help groups and refuges giving hope to many.The case of Imran Rehman, from Derby, aired by BBC Radio 5 Live recently is typical. When young people become defiant, their families take extreme measures.In his case he was abducted and taken to Pakistan. He was shackled and imprisoned for 15 days until he agreed to be engaged to his 5-year-old cousin.Although cases of forced marriage involving women are more common, some 10-15% of victims are men. In the case of women, the victim is often held back in their native country till she becomes pregnant or gives birth.The Foreign and Commonwealth office has established the Forced Marriage Unit (FMU), which deals with some 300 cases each year. The unit helps and often rescues the victims from difficult circumstances if they are alerted before undertaking journeys abroad. It is always advisable to leave contact details with a trusted friend who could contact the FMU in case of emergency.There are some 165 women’s refuges. After Imran Rehman’s case the government has indicated that it would be willing to fund a male-only refuge for victims of forced marriage. In the past, when no refuges existed, victims remained constantly on the move for fear of being caught by the bounty hunters let loose by their parents. The possibility of an impending forced marriage affects the victims in a variety of ways; a drop in performance and low motivation in education, self-harm, depression, attempted suicide and family disputes are common symptoms. But the misery does not stop there. Some 70% of such loveless marriages end up in divorce.Forced marriage is not sanctioned within any culture or religion. It is a mind–set of patriarchal culture that needs to be addressed through education. For this to happen it is important that children are taught from a very early age that they also have rights, such as when to marry, where to marry, and whom to marry. It is the parents’ duty to help them grow in a loving and caring environment, into mature and responsible adults. Sexual equality and zero tolerance against violence should be part of their upbringing. An arranged marriage is not the same as a forced marriage. In an arranged marriage, the families and friends take an active part in choosing the marriage partner. But the marriage is entered into through free consent of both people. A happy marriage is a gateway to a happy future.Ghayasuddin Siddiqui is from the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain.