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July 12, 2012

Campaign against new forced marriage law gathers momentum in UK

National

July 12, 2012

LONDON: Parliamentarians and ethnic minority campaigners have expressed fears that the new government legislation to ban the so-called forced marriages will drive the problem underground and will not help the victims.
Khalid Mahmood MP (Labour) and Elaina Cohen organised a conference in the House of Commons to discuss the concerns various ethnic minority organisations have about the new proposals aimed at outlawing the practise.
Baroness Paula Uddin, Yasmin Qureshi MP, Lord Qurban Hussain, Yasmin Sheikh MBE, Marai Laras, CEO Imkaan and Chair of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, Pragna Patel, Director Southall Black Sisters, Dr Aisha Gill, Reader in Criminology in Roehampton University, Shahida Choudhry, Founder of the Women’s Networking Hub and many others, including two women who were forced to marry in Pakistan, also spoke on this occasion.
The problem of forces marriages mainly exists in South Asian and Muslim communities in Europe but most of the cases highlighted have been from the Pakistani and Sikh communities in Britain. An estimated 8,000 young women from Britain a year are forced into marriages, mostly in South Asian countries, with a large proportion in Pakistan.
Many Pakistani women have come out against their forced-marriages in Pakistan but the community leaders fear that the new legislation will give an excuse to authorities to interfere too much in the family affairs of ethnic minority communities.
The speakers agreed that forced marriages were a cultural problem, which affected nationalities from many parts of the world, and have nothing to do with any religion and there was urgent need to challenge this problems at the grassroots level. But they said that the government has “destroyed” social services and austerity measures has resulted into large-scale cut in the provision of services and consultations, making the job of reaching to the victims more difficult.
Under planned new laws, the parents who force

their children to marry in England and Wales will be jailed; it is already illegal in Scotland.
Although the new law will distinguish between forced marriages, where there is no consent, and arranged marriages, where both parties have consented to the union, but it is clear that the government is intent on discouraging, by all means, marriages from the South Asian countries, especially Pakistan. The new spouse law which were enforced this Monday have been described as heavy handed laws which will alienate British citizens from their own country as the requirements have been made too stringent. The forced marriage legislation, campaigners fear, will give police and the social services too many powers which may be misused. Speakers said that far from discouraging forced marriages, the legislation will dissuade the victims from coming forward because they would not like their parents and siblings to end up with criminal records. It will divide families and will create divisions, they said.
They said appropriate criminal sanctions were required to stop forced marriages. Then, they said, the very definition of forced marriage can be misleading as many victims, without knowing may become victims of the practice as they may be sweet-talked or black-mailed into it and there is nothing the law can do about it.

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