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British High Court judge condemns forced Asian marriages

by Anna Baker
28 May 1999
Agence France-Press

LONDON, May 28 (AFP) – A damning ruling by a High Court judge against the forced marriage of British Asian girls emerged Friday as news of three extreme cases increased pressure on the government to take a firmer stance on the practice.

Justice Singer’s ruling that parents who take their daughters abroad in order to marry them off against their will are guilty of abduction has been applauded by campaigners against forced marriages.

His landmark judgement, made 10 days ago and which has only just come to public attention, came after he succeeded in ordering the return of a 17-year-old British Sikh girl taken by her parents to a remote Indian village to be married.

The spotlight turned on the plight of some British Asian girls who react against forced marriages after a mother and son were Tuesday jailed for life for murdering the teenage daughter they believed had insulted family honour with her adulterous pregnancy.

The daughter had wanted to divorce her husband, who she was forced to marry at the age of 15, and marry her lover.

The sentence prompted Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, leader of the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain, to issue a statement condemning the “negative and destructive practice” of forced marriages and urging Britain’s Muslim community leaders to follow suit.

“Patriarchal leaders need to evaluate the sexist messages they are giving to young men and begin to openly condemn such inhuman practices,” he said.

Campaigners are increasing pressure on the government and public bodies to adopt a harder line on forced marriages. Previously, authorities have avoided tackling the issue for fear of accusations that they are impinging on the religious and cultural freedoms of ethnic groups.

Ann Cryer, the Labour MP for Keighley, West Yorkshire, a region with one of Britain’s largest Asian communities, this week brought to the government’s attention the case of a young mixed-race couple who have been on the run for seven years because of death threats from the Asian girl’s family.

Some Asian teenage girls can face “all sorts of coercion from family emotional blackmail right through to lives being at risk,” said Cryer, who is campaigning for greater awareness of Asian girls and women placed in danger.

Pressure groups estimate that at least 1,000 young British Asian women are forced into marriage each year.
Cryer wants Muslim community leaders to speak out against families who place honour above the good of their daughters.

“Only when it starts to come from the leaders of their (the families’) own communities, particularly from the mosques then perhaps they’ll actually take notice,” she explained, adding that forced marriage are “un-Islamic”.

She drew a clear distinction with “totally acceptable” arranged marriages, where the girl’s consent must be sought.

But she warned that Britain’s 1.5 million-strong Asian populations could face increasing resistance from their teenage daughters to arranged marriages.

“It’s a sort of time-bomb that’s going off now,” she said. “Girls of 15, 16 and 17, born into British culture are not going to accept the norms which were relevant to their older sisters and mothers.”

Ayub Laher is general secretary of the Council of Mosques in Bradford, a northern city which holds Britain’s largest Muslim community, of around 90,000.

He strongly disputes the notion that community leaders are sending families the wrong message about forced marriages, although he conceded that more remained to be done.

Part of the problem, he said, lies in the fact that “many of the youngsters growing up in England are growing up far from proper Islamic teachings.”




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