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Focus on forced Asian marriages

David Hencke, Westminster Correspondent
Thursday August 5, 1999
The Guardian

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 moral blindness."

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.




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