Forced Marriage – honour-based abuse

The Prime Minister

In today’s news Cameron appears to be set to make forced marriage a criminal offence. The BBC Newsround headlines:

Forced marriage to be made illegal in England and Wales

My initial reaction was Hurrah! And then I thought – hang on, I am actually astonished that it isn’t a criminal offence already. This is 21st century Britain after all.

So I started scouring the news for details. I found that in Scotland, forced marriage has been illegal only since November 2011. Here is a definition as noted by the Scottish Government:

A forced Marriage is a marriage in which one or both parties do not (or, in the case of some adults with learning or physical disabilities, cannot) consent to the marriage and duress is involved. Duress includes both physical and emotional pressure. It is very different from arranged marriage, where both parties give their full and free consent to the marriage.

The Independent today has an opinion piece entitled:

Forced marriage – we can’t ignore the shocking truth

Apparently until now, forced marriage has been a civil offence only. The Government in England instituted a Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) which could use the force of the law but not prosecute the parents. This soft approach was to encourage victims to report knowing that their parents would not be prosecuted. This is about to change. We can only hope victims will still report to the FMU.

Last year the FMU dealt with 1,468 cases (78% are women and 30% of those are under 18). I don’t how many of the remaining 22% are disabled and/or gay men and how many are boys also being forced into marriage.

The statistics show that 56% of 2011’s victims had learning disabilities and some 10 cases involved gays or lesbians. And these figures are only the reported ones. There seems to be a whole underground in this country where honour-based abuse thrives.

Karma Nirvana has some 5,000 distress phone calls to its helpline every year. This is from their web page:

At Karma Nirvana, we have one clear aim: to stop the scandal of forced marriage and honour-based violence. No apologies. No excuses. No backing down.

If you’re here to tell us that we can please all cultures without causing the slightest bit of offence – well, frankly, you’ve come to the wrong place.

Jasvinder Sanghera

Jasvinder Sanghera the founder, is committed to the support of victims of honour-based abuse in Britain after her own experiences and the suicide of her sister.

We are aware that forced marriages appear to have more to do with eastern and Middle Eastern countries and the cultural norms and religions that survive there. But this is happening in Great Britain among immigrant communities. Some girls are sent back to where their families came from and forced into marriage there, often to much older men and/or male relatives. Some girls and women are subjected to constant rape and domestic violence. Some girls and women commit suicide because there seems no way out.

Along with forced marriage goes domestic violence, honour killings and female genital mutilation (FGM). None of these practices should be condoned by Britain or, indeed, anywhere else. Remember Ayaan Hirsi Ali talking about these things in Somalia in her book Infidel? A horrifying read.

And now we are aware that disabled people are being forced into marriage in this country. Over half of the cases reported to the FMU relate to disabled people. According to the blog DisabledGo News, half of the cases reported are from Pakistani origin and the rest from across many different ethnic groups. Some are forced into marriage to provide them with a carer others for residence and citizenship reasons.

Cameron is quoted as describing forced marriage as “little more than slavery”. Yes, Cameron, that is true. And now – how do we ensure that the practice doesn’t go underground? That’s a potential problem that I can see and can’t think of a solution.

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