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  • Forced marriages and forced rape


    by Sunny
    12th June, 2006 at 12:02 am    

    Last week the government decided not to criminalise the specific act of forcing someone into a marriage. At present parents can only be prosecuted on charges of kidnap, false imprisonment, physical abuse or rape.

    The more I think about it the more annoyed I get at the continuing stupidity of this government, their cronies and their idiotic advisors. Yes it is an issue fraught with complication and emotion but once again Labour has fallen victim to an army of Asian apologetics who prefer this muddle and like to pretend that the practice of forced marriages “is very rare”. What bullshit. We know its widespread but no one wants to admit it.

    I’m disappointed by this statement by Pragna Patel from the Southall Black Sisters for example:

    We don’t see the need for criminalisation of forced marriage, which is yet another way of stereotyping and criminalising entire communities at a time when there is heightened racism in this country.

    What the hell are you on about woman? I’m more worried about girls being forced into marriages and having their lives wrecked than “stereotyping”.

    Individuals and organisations who have resisted the act of criminalisation did so primarily on three points:

    1) It would drive the practice ‘further underground’.
    This idiotic argument assumes that actually forced marriages are a relatively open affair when we all know they are not. They are already completely underground! That is the problem.

    2) It would deter girls from approaching the authorities in the worry their parents may be put in prison.
    This has some relevance but given that only around 300 cases get reported every year, my bet is most do so when every avenue of trying to reason with their parents has been exhausted in they run away in desperation. At that time I doubt they are really worried about their parents but rather their own safety, and quite rightly too.

    3) Existing legislation is enough.
    This is the strongest argument but again misses the point. A specific piece of legislation would send a strong signal to parents that what they’re doing is illegal and they can be put in prison for it. It would be a symbolic move.

    And yet all this common sense has passed Baroness Scotland by completely. Not only that, the government has turned its eye away from forced rape. As Minette Marin says in today’s Sunday Times:

    When British women of Asian origin are forced into marriage against their consent, they are, one can only assume, forced into sex against their consent, or in plain English raped. It is bad enough that it happens all over the underdeveloped world; it is unacceptable that it happens here.

    Forced marriage is not the same as arranged marriage. It is the horrible practice of forcing a young British girl (or boy) to marry someone of his or her parents’ choice, often so the spouse can acquire British nationality and its benefits. And it is all too common. About 300 are reported every year and there are probably many others that go unreported, along with some suspected cases of honour killings in Britain and a high rate of suicide among young Asian females here, at three times the national average.

    If ever there were a case for protecting vulnerable young women from institutionalised rape, this must be it.

    It would send a clear message that it goes against British values and is unacceptable no matter how multicultural anyone might feel.

    I completely agree. I reserve the right to practice my own culture and live life how I want, but I draw the line at turning my eyes away from such blatant abuses within our community.

    It is even more worrying that campaigning groups such as the Southall Black Sisters are more worried about people being stereotyped and racism than forcefully trying to eradicate this stupid practice. Would they have given the same advice during the British Raj and advise against criminalising sati?

    What we needed was a few well publicised arrests of parents trying to force their kids into marriage and the practice would have been fast-tracked into oblivion.

    Instead the government has abandoned British Asian women once again. Shameful.


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    Filed in: Culture,Race politics,Sex equality






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    1. Queen Bee — on 12th June, 2006 at 1:44 am  

      The Southall Black Sisters are the most heroic feminist activists who for thirty years have been at the coalface of campaigning for Asian women. They are nobody’s fools. I expected them to find in favour of legislation. I would like to read the full explanation for why they were on balance against it.

    2. IC — on 12th June, 2006 at 5:04 am  

      I am in absolute agreement with the views that Sunny has expressed in this article.

      But forced marriages are a complicated issue. Only legislation is not the answer. The women of South Asian origin, anywhere in the world, have to develop some spine and stand up for themselves.

      Can our women ever dare to take HEROIC steps like that of Lorena Bobbit (a US female), who used a kitchen knife to chop off the penis of her husband because he was forcing himself on her?

      If even a few of these forced marriage cases end up with the scumbag husband having his lousy dick chopped off then I think no one would ever dare to force another Indian woman into an unwanted marriage.

      So the moral of the story is that the Indian women have to learn to use that Kitchen knife to protect themselves from forced marriages. The cure of the problem lies not in legislation, the cure lies in the kitchen knife.

    3. Galloise Blonde — on 12th June, 2006 at 8:23 am  

      Sunny, my God, I have just written an almost identical piece (slightly angrier) called ‘Forced Marriage or Arranged Rape’ for my group (the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation). Great minds, etc etc. I was particularly annoyed that Baroness Scotland prudishly averted her eyes from the sexual exploitation of youngsters to characterise it as domestic violence without looking at the other aspects. I’d like to see some creative lawyering: why restrict charges to threats and assaults? Under section 59 of the 2003 Sexual Offences Act, trafficking a person out of the UK for sexual exploitation is a crime that carries a maximum sentence of 14 years; under section 4, causing a person to engage in sexual activity without consent carries ten years. (I am not a lawyer, I looked it up on Google.)

      IC: A girl in Pakistan killed her husband after a forced marriage a few weeks ago. She was 16 and she killed him when he tried to have sex with her. She said that she was too young to be married and just wanted to go back to school. I don’t know what the follow up will be but I’m pretty sure she won’t be getting that education. It’s no answer to encourage violent and criminal behaviour in women who will probably not be tried fairly by the judicial system, like Kiranjit Ahluwalia, and hard to develop a spine when all of society is stacked against you. Besides which, in a not-inconsiderable number of cases, the man is the victim of forced marriage.

    4. Galloise Blonde — on 12th June, 2006 at 8:35 am  

      Oh, and just to give some data: according to the British Council of Pakistanis Scotland, half of a sample of marriages they surveyed involved coercion, and 21% were forced.

    5. mirax — on 12th June, 2006 at 9:22 am  

      >> hard to develop a spine when all of society is stacked against you.

      We are talking about British asian women, aren’t we? There are a lot of options in Britain for women/ girls who walk on on coercive families. It is the ones who are tricked into going to Pakistan etc and then forcibly maaried off who are in a far more difficult situation. Even then for the plucky/lucky few who send out an sos, there is help forthcoming from the british consulate. Enter the diplomatic rescue squad:

      http://www.guardian.co.uk/g2/story/0,,1663179,00.html

    6. mirax — on 12th June, 2006 at 9:22 am  

      correction : who walk on OUT on coercive families

    7. mirax — on 12th June, 2006 at 9:25 am  

      my correction needs a correction : who walk OUT on on coercive families. Sorry guys, too much coffee ;-(

    8. mirax — on 12th June, 2006 at 9:36 am  

      >>which is yet another way of stereotyping and criminalising entire communities at a time when there is heightened racism in this country.

      This is totally wrong reasoning. For one, I believe, this is a minority problem even within the affected communities. The said communities will in fact gain respect and support if they OPENLY acknowledge said problem and took REMEDIAL steps to alleviate the problem.

      A community that fails to safeguard its own women out of a misguided sense of ‘we don’t want to sully our reputation’ fully deserves all the knocking it gets.

      Is there heightened racism btw? Really?

    9. Queen Bee — on 12th June, 2006 at 10:07 am  

      But what is the Southall Black Sister’s reasoning for being against the legislation? Does someone have a link or a press release or a statement from them? Why have they come out against this? They are the gold standard Asian womens activists - why have the decided to advise against this?

    10. Chairwoman — on 12th June, 2006 at 10:22 am  

      Welcome to the world of 2nd/3rd generation immigrants. This is the phase where you suddenly find yourself (in public)defending the undefendable*, and paying lip-service to customs you have no sympathy with, as not to do so appears disloyal.

      Glad to have you all on board!

      *might have invented this word, doesn’t look quite right to me.

    11. Jai — on 12th June, 2006 at 10:23 am  

      There are different degrees of this practice (and yes, as Galloise Blonde mentioned, it happens to guys too, although I’m not sure if there is less awareness of this because it’s less prevalent or just because men will be less inclined to admit to having been maneouvred into this kind of situation). However, ultimately coercion is still coercion, whether it’s people being forced into marrying their cousin from some Pakistani village or people being “convinced” to compromise their expectations and preferences to the nth degree (often resulting in them “settling” for a partner who is far removed from the kind of people they may have dated in the past and/or the type of person they would prefer to be with if they had a completely free choice in the matter).

      I don’t wish to negate the gravity of the more extreme situations affecting some people which essentially involve kidnap and mortal threats, but the latter example I gave in my previous paragraph is also very prevalent indeed amongst Asians everywhere (in the US too, from what I’ve read on the SM blog). It may be a “softer” form of forced marriage, but it still involves an extensive amount of emotional blackmail, political/psychological maneouvering, and covert/overt threats. The parents concerned aren’t necessarily putting a gun to their kids’ heads, but suicide threats (usually from the mother), threats to disown the son/daughter (more often from the father), and other insidious forms of blackmail (misinformation etc) are “weapons” used to break down the son/daughter’s resistance and force them to submit to the arranged marriage against their will.

      The ironic thing is that, if a person really wanted to be with someone, they would do so voluntarily and would not need to be “convinced” of anything. Unfortunately, the assumption in these scenarios, and the associated cultural mindset (amongst many of the older generation anyway), seems to be that resistance and disagreement on the part of the younger person concerned is a “normal” state of affairs, something to be expected, and that convincing them to change their minds is therefore also a perfectly normal and acceptable course of action.

    12. Queen Bee — on 12th June, 2006 at 10:33 am  

      Really Chairwoman? And who is defending these practises here? You must be reading a different set of responses, with your smug generalisations and innacurate representations.

    13. Jai — on 12th June, 2006 at 10:34 am  

      Sunny,

      =>”What we needed was a few well publicised arrests of parents trying to force their kids into marriage and the practice would have been fast-tracked into oblivion.”

      Absolutely, the parents concerned should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Your analogy of “sati” was spot-on — there should be limits to how much should be allowed in the interests of “respecting cultural diversity”, at least if this involves grossly unjust practices which directly contravene accepted human rights and liberal attitudes within this country.

      Otherwise it just gives the parents concerned yet another excuse to act as though liberal Western norms do not apply to their British-born children (and that their sons/daughters do not have the same rights as everyone else in the country) just because they are the children of immigrants originating in foreign nations which may have different cultural attitudes to these matters. You can’t treat your children as though they were literal extensions of subcontinental society, even if you believe yourself to be so.

    14. sonia — on 12th June, 2006 at 10:38 am  

      great article sunny. foreed marriage is forced marriage and is criminal by definition! this is acknowledged in south asia - people often try and pretend that their daughter has ‘agreed’ to an ‘arranged’ marriage - and they wouldn’t bother with that social pretence if they
      thought they were in the clear.

      and your last point - “It is even more worrying that campaigning groups such as the Southall Black Sisters are more worried about people being stereotyped and racism than forcefully trying to eradicate this stupid practice. Would they have given the same advice during the British Raj and advise against criminalising sati?”

      is a critical one. as far as i can see this is a pretty big problem - essentially having to pay lip-service to ‘traditions’ in a diasporic context where ‘community’ and ‘tradition’ are revered in a way that doesn’t seem to allow for the natural moving on of such traditions.

    15. sonia — on 12th June, 2006 at 10:40 am  

      “The cure of the problem lies not in legislation, the cure lies in the kitchen knife.”

      Ahem!!

      only indian capitalist could come up with such a response. Advocating violence are we? IC - if these women are muslim you know what everyone’s going to say.

      Anyway seriously the Bobbit scenario didn’t do much for changing the face of American marriages/or failure of marriages. i think it only turned the bobbit bloke into some kind of a porn star wasn’t it..

    16. mirax — on 12th June, 2006 at 10:42 am  

      I have had direct experience with helping or trying to help 2 women escape forced marraiges. Fortunately, there are very few of these cases in Singapore and they tend to involve the subcontinental muslim community and NEVER the much bigger Malay muslim community.

      The first: one of my closest friends, 21, educated and gutsy, locked up at home for days on end in order to break her will and make her submit to an arranged marriage. Well, she broke out and came to stay with my family (she had nothing at all, not even a change of underwear) for a few months while she sorted her life out. Her family disowned her and there was a bitter estrangement between them lasting about 10 years. But her escape really helped her 4 younger sisters to assert themselves against the parents who did not dare try the same coercive tactics again cause they weren’t prepared for the ‘shame’ of 5 runaway girls.

      The second was a much more tragic case. I was in college and tutoring a 16 year-old. She told me of a fellow student being forced into marriage by her older brother. I went out of my way to contact this kid and tell her that she did have options but she was too afraid to cut herself off from her family. She went ahead with the marriage (to a much older man) which turned out to be a horribly violent and abusive one, got divorced a few years later and ended up estranged from her family nevertheless.

      Both these girls were south indian muslims btw.And as far as I know, there are no safe houses or an official network for helping them.

    17. sonia — on 12th June, 2006 at 10:45 am  

      it’s the same kind of unwillingness governments showed for absolutely ages re: domestic violence. as far as i can see this is just another variation of domestic violence. Ought to certainly be criminalized therefore with the same protections built in.

    18. mirax — on 12th June, 2006 at 10:51 am  

      >>it’s the same kind of unwillingness governments showed for absolutely ages re: domestic violence. as far as i can see this is just another variation of domestic violence.

      Spot on Sonia!

    19. sonia — on 12th June, 2006 at 10:55 am  

      mirax - that sounds terrible. how awful for those girls.

      yeah sadly the ironic thing is in the end they end up being estranged from these bloody families anyway. and usually the thing stopping them at the start usually is not wanting to estrange their families - after all that’s a pretty big step. it’s not surprising that it takes a pretty drastic situation or nerves of steel to have to go against your own family who out of everyone ought to be the ones protecting you!

      i feel really mad at the asian mothers and families out there who put their daughters through this i really do => all for protecting their bl**dy respectability and standing within the “community”.

    20. Queen Bee — on 12th June, 2006 at 11:01 am  

      By the way, by refusing to criminalise this, the government gives genuine racists ammunition and the opportunity to bash Asians and use it as an example of how all Asians are scum of whom the government is afraid of (having spent time reading comments on various blogs, the line between genuine compassion for the victims and an excuse to vent hatred against all Asians amongst some is a blurred one occasionally)

      So all in all the government has absolutely messed this issue up and not only missed an opportunity to draw a line in the sand but also allowed a loophole to remain which is used to bash Asians generically. What is wrong with these people? I want to know who the main advocates against this legislation were - was it the MCB and the ‘leaders’ of the other religious groups? Names and individuals who took part in the consultation process would be good.

      I also would like to read more from the Southall Black Sisters as to what their reasoning was. If anyone can get a link for a statement from them that would be good.

    21. sonia — on 12th June, 2006 at 11:04 am  

      the cultural diversity angle implies it’s accepted practice somewhere else. well it ain’t. like i said, the practice is ‘veiled’ and not ‘outright’. keeping up face being the most important thing and outright proclamation of having forced your kids into marriage is not the norm. of course given the fact that in the mostly muslim countries of bangladesh and pakistan everyone is aware of the fact they have to ‘pretend’ they’re not forcing someone into marriage because of course that’s against their religion. so in order to maintain a semblance of ‘respectability’ they have to be hypocritical and pretend everything’s ok.

      obviously it’s not but the point is even they know they’re on dodgy territory.

    22. sonia — on 12th June, 2006 at 11:05 am  

      queen bee’s got a good point up there. it bolsters those who’re anti - ‘multiculturalism’..and talk about how we want ‘special rules’ and whatnot.

    23. Galloise Blonde — on 12th June, 2006 at 11:18 am  

      Queen Bee, there’s a pdf on the consultation process here. It crashed my machine, but I gleaned this: those in favour of the legislation were youth advocacy groups, and most police forces were against (more work for them I guess). It was a close call, with about 4% difference. Some of the groups are listed from p.46, but I didn’t find a breakdown of ‘ayes’ and ‘nays’. I think we can guess the MCB’s position from Muhammad Bari’s interview with the Telegraph the other day.

      Arranged marriages are a good idea. These are not forced on children but it is a way of parents helping to guide their children to make the right choices…It is a wonderful system.

      Sigh.

    24. sonia — on 12th June, 2006 at 11:31 am  

      so irritating what with folks like the bloody MCB around. honestly the thing that surprised me the most when i went to university was the no.s of young british asians convinced their parents knew ‘what was good for them’. Amazing! I hadn’t met such lip service from young people in Asia itself. All this ‘we must stick to our heritage’ nonsense - gawd. Such ‘fixed’ notions of identity are so dangerous.

      Galloise Blonde - good site.

    25. Kismet Hardy — on 12th June, 2006 at 11:54 am  

      Can you arrange for it to not be a criminal offence if a moustachio illetirati from across the pond comes over and rapes my sister and I pound his skull into the tarmac until it turns to mush?

    26. Roger — on 12th June, 2006 at 12:02 pm  

      “Arranged marriages are a good idea. These are not forced on children but it is a way of parents helping to guide their children to make the right choices…It is a wonderful system.”
      There is a difference between an arranged marriage and a forced marriage. What is a marriage through a marriage bureau but an arranged marriage?
      However, how many arranged marriages are also forced to some degree? From a practical viewpoint, if the purpose is to get people out of forced marriages it may be better not to have a law of the sort proposed ['though I'd have thought there were plenty of laws already in existence that could be used], but if the purpose is to make it plain that the state opposes and will not tolerate or recognise such marrieges, no matter how indirect the force, then a law making it plain would be very useful.

    27. NorahJones — on 12th June, 2006 at 12:06 pm  

      Hey Mr Hardy, am leaving in a little while. It’s Bronx night no? Might pop down with Scorps.

    28. Galloise Blonde — on 12th June, 2006 at 12:07 pm  

      Cheers sonia. :-) and thanks for the link!

    29. leon — on 12th June, 2006 at 12:12 pm  

      From that Bari/Telegraph interview:

      “His aim, he says, will be to encourage Britain to adopt more Muslim ways, as well as to encourage Muslims to be good British citizens. He thinks that non-Muslim Britons would benefit from having arranged marriages and espousing stronger family values; they would also do well to stop drinking and gambling and to follow many of the teachings of Islam.”

      So, the MCB, under Bari, are going to play right into the hands of the BNP and those who fear a creeping Islamic state in the UK…great.

    30. Suzzy — on 12th June, 2006 at 12:23 pm  

      I think Bari has a screw loose. Why should Britain ‘adopt Muslim ways’? What absolute nonsense. Do you think these jumped up arrogant spokesmen have any idea of how the world views their rhetoric? And since when has family values been a uniquely Islamic value? Conservatism is a British value amongst many. Seriously, sometimes I think the MCB and others are simply on a different plane of reality.

    31. Queen Bee — on 12th June, 2006 at 12:31 pm  

      Thanks for the pdf GBlonde; I will look at it more closely later, but browsing through the list of consultees was interesting. I think a fuller explanation of the reasoning needs to be forthcoming. Maybe the journalist who runs this site could seek further clarification.

    32. leon — on 12th June, 2006 at 12:33 pm  

      He’s also having a big laugh if he thinks the average Brit is going to give up drinking!

    33. sonia — on 12th June, 2006 at 12:44 pm  

      leon - you’re right. gosh what a statement. why are the MCB going around and doing such things. do they think they’re a bunch of victorian missionaries or something?

      family values indeed. more like oppressive family structures that’s what.

    34. sonia — on 12th June, 2006 at 12:46 pm  

      you’re welcome GBlonde..keep up the good work!

    35. sonia — on 12th June, 2006 at 12:47 pm  

      Suzzy - “And since when has family values been a uniquely Islamic value?”

      quite right. all anyone ever seems to do nowadays is to engage in competition ( intellectual property style) over ‘concepts’ or ‘values’ that are universal.

    36. sonia — on 12th June, 2006 at 12:53 pm  

      well from what little i’ve currently read about on the Sepia Mutiny thread Jai linked to from the w/e open thread - ( and admittedly i haven’t read it in depth) they seem to be reacting to it in a slightly defensive way. e.g. arranged marriage is part of indian culture so the desis who are complaining about it ( which a lot of people seem to be saying they’re fed up of hearing!)are being anti-indian in the process.

      hmmm.

    37. Sunny — on 12th June, 2006 at 1:23 pm  

      It would be naive to make this into a Muslim issue by the way. Believe it or not a lot of my Sikh and Hindu female friends are also being coerced into marriage. This is a pan-Asian issue and the fucking govt has been hood-winked by these bloody organisations to let things carry on as before. Aaaaaaargh!

      Any suggestions on what we can do? I’m thinking a petition or something… but Southall Black Sister’s stupid response has really annoyed me.

      Chairwoman - I know… *sigh*

    38. raz — on 12th June, 2006 at 2:06 pm  

      ASIANS SUCk….oh never mind :(

    39. Sanj — on 12th June, 2006 at 2:20 pm  

      Imagine the sense of self importance these trumped up ‘panchayat’ leaders get blown up with as soon as they see themselves on the television —- British society should adopt Muslim values indeed.

      Have you noticed that this attitude also betrays an essentialising view of British society which stereotypes it in a way that Bari complains about when people stereotype Muslims? Seems like they need to learn more about Britain rather than the other way around, and also focus on the massive social problems facing Bangladeshis and Pakistanis in inner cities - family breakdown, drugs, crime. Whoops! Surely those things don’t happen within Muslim communities, what with us being told that Islam has the family values remedy to cure all of England of it’s illnesses.

      These pompous community leaders need to be taken down a peg or two.

    40. leon — on 12th June, 2006 at 2:31 pm  

      “These pompous community leaders need to be taken down a peg or two.”

      Hmmm, reads much better as:

      “These pompous community leaders need to be taken down.”

      ;)

    41. sonia — on 12th June, 2006 at 2:43 pm  

      yes the concept of a ‘leader’itself is any case is tyrannical and fascist and therefore illiberal. why should i be led? i’m an anarchist.

    42. raz — on 12th June, 2006 at 2:47 pm  

      ““These pompous community leaders need to be taken out”

      Souns even better :)

    43. Robert — on 12th June, 2006 at 3:14 pm  

      Why not just abolish marriage?

      It would stop forced marriages.

      It would also achieve the double whammy of giving gay people equal rights with straight people, while also pandering to those who think gay marriage is an abomnation.

      It would also stop the ridiculous practice of parents living apart from their kids for extra state benefits.

      And it would of course send out a signal to those pesky jonny-foreigners that they can’t come over here and force their “marrying” ways onto decent British folk.

      Those who still feel a traditional pull to be legally bound to someone else, could have some kind of ‘civil partnership’ ceremony or something.

    44. sonia — on 12th June, 2006 at 3:21 pm  

      have you seen what they’ve been saying in the USA about gay marriage denigrating proper marriage..

    45. Don — on 12th June, 2006 at 3:43 pm  

      I don’t know how practical it would be, and of course it does nothing to tackle the roots, but maybe we could look at marriageable age?

      At the moment it is 18 or 16 with parental consent. Maybe that should be tweaked in the case of marriage to a non-UK citizen?

    46. Jai — on 12th June, 2006 at 3:54 pm  

      Don,

      Presumably you mean “tweaked” in the sense of “tweaked upwards” (ie. older).

      I don’t think this will necessarily make much difference in many cases, as quite a few of the women concerned will still be living with their parents and, due to the cultural factors involved in their parents’ thinking, would not be able to move out until they got married. Of course increasing the age requirement will give such people a little more time to sort their lives out and get out of the house if possible.

      The age amendment also won’t necessarily affect the cases of sons being pushed into these situations with women they don’t want to marry, regardless of whether the potential spouse is from the UK or abroad.

      Although it’s still a good idea and merits consideration.

    47. Jai — on 12th June, 2006 at 4:07 pm  

      I guess there is one possible way forward, to supplement Sunny’s original points. You could make the act of coercing one’s child into marrying someone against their will to carry a very heavy criminal penalty indeed — like rape (indeed, there may be an overlap between the two in some cases, as has been mentioned previously on this thread). Perhaps this could be extended to the “manipulated marriages” trend too, along with the more dangerous kidnap/threats variety.

      The extensive prison sentence this would involve and the associated social condemnation should go some way towards acting as an effective deterrent.

    48. sonia — on 12th June, 2006 at 4:19 pm  

      hardly going to address the matter of parents forcing their daughter to marry boy down the street is it now. and besides it wouldn’t protect any of the 20 year olds..

    49. Galloise Blonde — on 12th June, 2006 at 4:27 pm  

      The marriage age has been raised for everyone here in France, and in a few other European countries too. I don’t see why this wouldn’t help here. Sixteen is pretty young to be married; what if we made it 18, or even 21?, Although the effect would be marginal, there would still be some young women and men for whom the greater maturity would empower them to resist parental pressure, and more independence to find the resources to do so. Also, increasing the age for everyone has, hopefully, no ‘minority law’ implications, like tying it to immigration would.

    50. sonia — on 12th June, 2006 at 4:47 pm  

      currently the way the rules are that if you get married in Britain to a non-british citizen you have to ask ‘permission’ before you get married. the reasoning being that they then have the time to check if it’s a marriage of convenience - the main way they do this is to check if the non-british person is close to the expiration date of their visa. now if someone gets married to a non-british person outside of the country, that’s another matter. of course when the spouse wants to come over, they’re subject to immigration rules and all the checks if the marriage is a valid one and not one just for obtaining entry blah blah. the mechanisms for checks etc. is in place.

      But again - the question still remains how best to deal with the situation if someone’s already signed the papers. really we need to be thinking about avoiding getting to that stage.

    51. Jai — on 12th June, 2006 at 4:49 pm  

      Speaking of “minority law”, I’m beginning to get a little apprehensive about the term “community leaders”. It implies that the ethnic/religious groups concerned really are a united, formal unit and under the authority of the aforementioned “leaders” who they supposedly have allegiance to. It’s basically implying a state-within-a-state.

      The reality, of course, is that this is not actually the case, even if (I suspect) some of these “leaders” — who are certainly not democratically elected by the hundreds of thousands/millions of people they supposedly represent — may wish to believe they are indeed in some kind of position of authority.

      “Community representatives” — well, possibly. Community leaders — hell, no.

    52. Zak — on 12th June, 2006 at 4:50 pm  

      coercion..by any other name…obviously this is criminal..the solution would be to deal with the problem at it’s source in Pakistan (where unfortunately most cases originate) and set up a joint media campaign in the area as well as ask the pak government to toughen up its own laws in that regard..

    53. Roger — on 12th June, 2006 at 7:18 pm  

      Samuel Johnson’s view of arranged marriages: “I believe marriages would in general be as happy, and often more so, if they were all made by the Lord Chancellor, upon a due consideration of characters and circumstances, without the parties having any choice in the matter.”
      Possibly it would be worth abolishing marriage except as a religious custom. Spanish anarchists had a custom of “freely chosen companionship” where a couple lived together entirely by choice with no religious or legal coercion. These unions were usually happier and longer-lasting than marriages.

    54. Chairwoman — on 12th June, 2006 at 8:01 pm  

      Queen Bee - Sorry I took so long getting back to you. I wasn’t talking about anyone commenting on this on this site, I was talking about all the people who said that a new law wasn’t necessary, who want to police themselves. I have been second generation for a very long time and what you heard was the voice of world-weary experience.

    55. Katy Newton — on 12th June, 2006 at 9:56 pm  

      The Chairwoman has spent 60-odd years dealing with second generation issues in this country, Queen Bee. How rude you were to her, and it was so utterly unnecessary.

    56. Katy Newton — on 12th June, 2006 at 9:58 pm  

      Robert

      What would be the difference between a marriage and a civil partnership?

      Surely people who were minded to force their children into an alliance with someone they deemed suitable would just push them into a civil partnership instead?

    57. Sunny — on 12th June, 2006 at 10:17 pm  

      What would be the difference between a marriage and a civil partnership?

      Indian marriages are stupidly expensive - that’s what.

    58. Kulvinder — on 12th June, 2006 at 11:00 pm  

      I can’t find the original article on the consultation exercise that was carried out but i stand by everything i said there, reprehensible as this practise is laws already exist to cover all the issues concerned, a slight majority of asians were against the idea of these laws and education is a far better long term solution. Those who call for new laws on any subject scare the crap out of me :(

    59. Rakhee — on 13th June, 2006 at 1:52 pm  

      Mirax - your comment - “and as far as I know, there are no safe houses or an official network for helping them” is key. There needs to be something in place for victims of forced marriages to go and there just isn’t at the moment.

      Sunny, your question as to what we could do. Have a couple of ideas:

      1. The most powerful way of communicating this issue is to get people who have suffered a forced marriage to speak out. Is there any way we could source these women? I was reading this very story in The Asian Times today and there’s a picture of a woman who has suffered a forced marriage and thankfully broken free. If we do a petition, perhaps it should be led by such women, with our support?

      2. The other idea I have is to craft a letter or pledge, get it signed by organisations who are in support of legislating against forced marriages and submit it to a national paper. In a similar way to the FT letters page when companies sign a commitment for an issue (obviously the FT is not right in this case but perhaps some other title would work?)

      3. In addition and linked to my comment above is to perhaps ask The Samaritans or another helpline to highlight the issue through their work. I don’t know at the moment if there are specific helplines dedicated to people who suffer this type of thing? If the government aren’t going to ban forced marriages, the very least they can do is support victims of it.

      These are just quick ideas which may not work in this case, but it would be good to see some sort of action or solution come out of our debate….

    60. Queen Bee — on 13th June, 2006 at 2:00 pm  

      Rakhee

      You have hit on an excellent idea; a forced marriage helpline, staffed 24 hours a day, 365 days a year (or at least for as many hours of the day as possible)

      A telephone number that can be called freephone that will give help and advice to any girl or boy facing this situation, similar to Childline, but tailored especially for this problem, with links to police, shelters, social workers across the country, British Embassy advice etc etc

      This is one practical thing that can be done. Work overtime to disseminate the telephone number across media through schools and colleges, so that it is as widely known as possible. This is the kind of thing that can be done to really help in a practical sense. These kinds of things can make a difference.

    61. mirax — on 13th June, 2006 at 4:07 pm  

      My personal view is that parents who force their kids into marriage should be in lock-up, after a massive name-and-shame exercise.

      But the British asian community is apparently not yet ready for this.

      Next best is : the asian community should own up to the problem and thus OWN the problem and work *bloody actively* towards solving the issue since they are so uptight about criminalising it.They should be putting in hell of a lot more effort than they seem to be presently.

      They can take practical measures using resources available within the community:

      For example

      1. having a specific person in every mosque, temple, gurdwara who can be approached discreetly by the victim for help. This person either counsells the parents concerned and tries mediation or reports the problem to a specific authority if no resolution is possible so that the person at risk can be rescued before he/she is whisked off to the sub-continent.

      It goes without saying that the primary concern of such a resource person MUST be the welfare of the woman/man being coerced, not the ‘reputation’ of the family/community. If they shy away from this task, then they really have no business bitching if the state steps in with (hopefully harsh)legal remedies. 300 cases a year (only those reported btw) is way too much.

      2. The community needs to be the most proactive in education on this issue.The message that needs to go out is that forced marriage is WRONG. No fudging allowed.

      Asians should also get the clear message that they are being given a last opportunity to police themselves.They must have a clear idea of what the repercussions might be if the problem persists.

      Kids can be reached through school and the mass media but the parents, esp if they are ultra-traditional or not so literate, may only be reached through the socio-religious networks.

      3. The community network is better placed than the state to identify those at risk. If an older sister goes off on ‘holiday’ to the sub-continent (friends,neighbours and relatives often know of such trips in advance) but fails to return, can’t you reasonably assume that the younger sister is at risk? If the much vaunted asian ‘community spirit or close-knittedness’ really exists, then they must have the best ‘intelligence’.It’s about time such intelligence is shared.

      Asians must also own up to the very close link between forced marriage and ‘honour’ killing/abuse (a criminal matter, no?
      The same misguided notions about female chastity/sexuality, the superiority of ‘religious’ or ‘asian’ values, ‘status’ in the community etc motivate both forms of violence.

    62. Anthea — on 13th June, 2006 at 8:21 pm  

      # 45 - Don: At the moment it is 18 or 16 with parental consent. Maybe that should be tweaked in the case of marriage to a non-UK citizen?

      The problem with raising the marriage age, or even prohibiting a British asian from marrying a non-British asian is that there are ways to get around it.
      I’m pretty sure it applies to every, if not most asian countries, but when parents take their kids to Bangladesh or Pakistan and even India, they can still force them to get married. How? By having the civil/religious ceremonies and getting an official marriage certificate at the end of it.

      The only problem with prohibiting the marriage from happening legally by British terms by a few years, is that it doesn’t give the girl or boy time to consider the issue. It only makes the British parents more scheming: they’ll get married in the asian country, the british youngster will come back, they’ll wait a few years before they’re legally allowed to marry by British law. The marriage will most liekly still happen and the other half will eventually reach British shores either way.

    63. Gibs — on 17th June, 2006 at 3:15 pm  

      “once again Labour has fallen victim to an army of Asian apologetics who prefer this muddle and like to pretend that the practice of forced marriages “is very rare”. What bullshit.”

      Well done Sunny. I wish MORE people would say the word “BULLSHIT” whenever they hear the oft repeated line “forced marriages are very rare”. It would be better if that were to happen not just on weblogs but also on prime time TV news (even if it were to be “bleeped out” it would still be obvious to everyone watching what was being said - i.e. the truth).

      The reason this “no-nonesense outspoken-ness” probably DOESN’T happen is probably because of a phenomenon described eloquently described by Chairwoman earlier:

      “Welcome to the world of 2nd/3rd generation immigrants. This is the phase where you suddenly find yourself (in public)defending the undefendable*, and paying lip-service to customs you have no sympathy with, as not to do so appears disloyal.”

      Also perhaps too many 2nd/3rd generation people, like gullible cowards have bought the line “you do not contradict elders no matter what they say (however ridiculous)”.

    64. Don — on 17th June, 2006 at 3:21 pm  

      Anthea,

      Point taken. I wasn’t suggesting it would solve the problem, more that it might help in a few cases and send a signal generally. More helpful would be the idea put forward by other postrers here of a network which could help girls in that position. Ideally, someone in schools to whom they could go in confidence.

    65. Galloise Blonde — on 17th June, 2006 at 6:40 pm  

      The Forced Marriage Unit is putting out a handbook of guidance for social workers, teachers etc. etc., apparently to be released this Autumn, according to CIMEL. (And not a moment too soon! There’s a demographic bulge of youth coming up to marriageable age right about now.) My group are currently investigating an idea from Germany: staffed advice chatrooms.

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