An organisation representing Keighley Muslims has welcomed a government awareness campaign meant to alert people to the abusive practice of forced marriages.

Keighley Muslim Association spokesman, Mohammed Saleem, said he supported the ‘Marriage: It’s Your Choice’ initiative. This is designed to inform potentially vulnerable people of their rights, explaining who they can turn to for help and advice.

Mr Saleem said: “Forced marriages are totally unacceptable and against the teachings of Islam. Wherever it happens, if people get to hear about it, they must report it to the appropriate agencies.”

He added he believes forced marriage is no longer prevalent in the Keighley area, partly because tougher new laws to halt this practice now provide a more effective deterrent.

His view was supported by Ghulam Rabani, manager at Keighley’s Sangat Community Centre, who said: “I think the community is becoming more mature, and most parents don’t force their children into marriages they don’t want. Forced marriages in Keighley are becoming very rare.”

Keighley MP Kris Hopkins said: “We must do all we can to end this shameful abuse, very often of young girls being forced into relations with older men.

“We also need strong leadership from within local communities, and for them to work with the authorities to share information that will lead to the arrest and conviction of the criminals involved.

“It’s important to differentiate between arranged marriages, which are perfectly legitimate and consensual, and forced marriages, where one or both individuals do not consent and pressure or abuse of various forms is used.

“It’s certainly the case the risk of young people being taken overseas for a forced marriage increases during school holidays, so the launch of this initiative is well-timed.

“I also strongly commend the government’s commitment to publish plans for England and Wales to follow Scotland’s example by criminalising breaches of forced marriage protection orders. This could mean parents found guilty of forcing their children into marriage may face a prison sentence.”