Summer holidays should be a time when we can all relax and be ourselves, but for some young people the reality is very different. Today the government issued a warning about the dangers of forced marriage, which often involves young people being taken out of the country on what they think are holidays, only to find themselves at risk. It’s a particular problem for LGBT people.

“When my father and uncles found out that I was a lesbian, I thought I was going to die – that they were going to kill me. Being forced into a marriage is like being sold to be raped,” says Maya, 19, quoted in the government’s advice leaflet for LGBT people. Maya escaped with the help of the British Consulate but the Forced Marriage Unit has expressed concern that many of those at risk are not aware of services designed to help them.

“Young people have the right to choose whether to marry, who to marry, and when. Anybody worried that they or a friend are at risk of being forced into marriage abroad should seek advice before it’s too late. There may be only one chance to save yourself or someone else from a life they did not choose,” says Foreign & Commonwealth Office Minister Alistair Burt, who thinks that people looking out for their friends could make a big difference. Those who suspect their families may have forced marriage in mind are urged to call the FMU on (+44) (0)20 7008 0151 for advice before travelling abroad. If they must go, they should leave flight and passport details with a trusted friend and ask them to raise the alarm if they don’t return when expected.

Although only ten of the 1,468 forced marriage cases the unit dealt with last year involved people who identified as LGBT, the problem is believed to be much bigger, with young people in affected communities less likely to be at ease with their sexuality due to strong taboos. Forced marriage is different from arranged marriage, which involves consent, and it affects a diverse range of groups, with those of Turkish, Ukrainian or Pakistani origin at particular risk. It is not a religious issue but stems from family tradition. 15 to 24 year olds are most at risk and in recent years there has been an increase in cases involving male victims. The FMU is concerned that men can be at greater risk because forced marriage is usually seem as an issue affecting only women. Some families believe that a gay or bisexual man, once married, will become straight.

Introducing the government’s new campaign, Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone said “Making it illegal is not enough on its own, so we are supporting work to protect victims. The Right to Choose campaign is another vital part of this and will help raise awareness of the damage being forced into marriage can do.”

Young LGBT people forced into marriage report being falsely imprisoned, beaten and even sexually assaulted by family members. When abroad, they often have their passports, money and mobile phones taken away. Sometimes the pressure is more subtle and shame or threats of estrangement are used to persuade them to submit, but the FMU is clear that any marriage contracted without full consent is unacceptable. Help is available for British citizens (and those with dual nationality) who wish to leave such marriages, both in the UK and abroad.

The Right to Choose campaign has produced videos to help raise awareness of the risks: