Excerpt:

As thousands of girls and young women prepare to start the new school year in France, activists are sounding the alarm over those who are missing -- teenagers sent abroad over the holidays and forced into marriage.

Most victims are of Asian, African or Middle Eastern descent and belong to France's Muslim community, the largest in Europe.

While countries such as Britain have set up special units that track down victims at home and overseas, activists say France is only now waking up to the problem.

"For a long time this used to be considered a cultural thing," Fatima Lalem, who is in charge of gender equality at Paris City Hall, told Reuters. "Something that happens, but that people don't look at too closely." Over the past year, France has begun to tackle the problem more aggressively. Last November, Paris City Hall published a guide advising officials on detecting forced marriages.

But former victims and activists, many of them second- or third-generation immigrants working in France's multicultural suburbs, said such moves were unlikely to help women married off abroad, or scared into silence.


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