In the media
British High Court judge condemns forced Asian marriages
by Anna Baker
28 May 1999
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
“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.”