In the media
Focus on forced Asian marriages
David Hencke, Westminster Correspondent
Thursday August 5, 1999
An inquiry into forced marriages - believed to involve more than
1,000 people in Britain every year - is to be announced today, headed
by two Asian peers.
The independent working party, which will consult widely with the
1m-strong Asian community, will be chaired by Bangladesh-born Baroness
Uddin and businessman Lord Ahmed.
It will try to establish the extent of the problem and look at
ways to stamp it out.
The inquiry is being set up by Mike O'Brien, the home office minister
with responsibility for race relations. It follows his meeting in
May with a Bradford couple who have been in hiding for more than
six years after allegedly receiving death threats from the wife's
family because of her refusal to marry a cousin in Pakistan.
Members of the working party will include Lord Dholakia, chairman
of the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders
and member of the Race Relations Forum, and officials from the home
office, departments of health, education and employment, foreign
office and the women's unit at the cabi net office. Mr O'Brien said:
"Forced marriages are wrong and we are determined to tackle
the issue. The government must respond sensitively to issues of
cultural diversity but multicultural sensitivity is no excuse for
Hanana Siddiqui, a coordinator of the Southall Black Sisters, will
sit on the working party. She said the most important challenge
was to change the attitudes of social services, the police and education
authorities who were too ready to sidestep the problem for fear
of offending minority sensibilities.
Ms Siddiqui said: "We've been calling for an inquiry on this
for some time. For us this is an issue of child abuse and domestic
violence. Although there are a lot of laws there already, they are
not being implemented. This is what needs to change."
Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, leader of the Muslim parliament, said
that earlier this month the parliament had launched its own campaign
to stop forced marriages, making it clear that they were not valid
under Islamic law.
This means that sex within a forced marriage is rape, and parents
and religious leaders who conspired to force couples to wed were
guilty of aiding and abetting sex crimes.
He said it was important for the working party to work with the
Asian community, where the real solution to the problem lay.
He blamed a culture clash between children who had grown up in
Britain and parents who were mentally still on the sub-continent.
Dr Siddiqui said: "So far the community as been brushing the
problem under the carpet. Now there's a real feeling that we need
to solve it and see that these practices disappear."
The issue was highlighted by the conviction of Shakeela Naz, 45,
and her son Shazad, 22, for the murder of her daughter Rukhsana
when she became pregnant after an adulterous affair.