In November last year, Lord Lester and Southall Black Sisters teamed up to introduce introduce a Private Members Bill on forced marriages.
— “The object and purpose of the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Bill is to provide protection for the victims of forced marriage by means of civil remedies in the family courts. It seeks to empower and protect vulnerable women and men against serious abuse, involving violence, threats of violence and other forms of improper coercion” — from here.
The Bill was introduced into the House of Lords on 16th Nov and will have its second reading today. That page linked above has summary notes on what the bill covers and what the current laws are like. SBS held a meeting earlier this month to invite comments by other groups, although I felt it was badly organised and badly publicised. They didn’t even respond to emails. A friend went and said some women groups were annoyed at not being informed well in advance. I’m sure they’ll get involved now, they still have time.
But there isn’t complete consensus amongst womens groups on whether a) a specific bill is needed or b) not, or c) whether provisions should be added to existing laws against domestic violence. There is also disagreement over whether it should be a civil protection bill (as it is now) or whether forced marriages should be criminalised (so parents who force kids into a marriage are treated as criminals, as the last consulation asked). Organisations such as Karma Nirvana (set up by Jasvinder Sanghera, who has just published her autobiography) pushed for criminalisation and wanted the last bill to go through, while SBS opposed it last time because they wanted a civil protection bill as it is now.
It’s a bit of a fudge. Parents won’t be treated as criminals if this bill gets passed in the hope that those affected aren’t afraid of seeking help. But they hope that since it is still a standalone bill, it will send out a signal that the police won’t tolerate forced marriages. In other words it is still a symbolic move against forced marriages. I think it’s a fudge because unless a whole family gets banged up in prison for trying to force their daughter into marriage, the rest of Asian society isn’t going to wake up. I laid out my reasoning earlier here.
This is an issue about violence against women – an attempt to control their lives and force them into doing other people’s biddings. I know it’s an obvious point to make, but the implication is that it should be treated as, and dealt with, as gender violence. The religion of victims is irrelevant and thus it annoys me to no end when politicians and journalists start asking the likes of the Hindu Council / MCB / Sikh Federation for their opinion. Exactly what experience do these people have in helping women suffering from domestic violence? I’m not sure why Michael White asks Sadiq Khan MP for his opinion in an article today – could he not have asked other womens groups? Unsurprisingly Khan is more worried about “ghettoising” and “stereotyping” than the lives of British Asian women.
My rant on comment is free about this.
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Filed in: Sex equality