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MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Mon 22-Jun-15 11:13:17

Guest post: "Forced marriage is abuse - and we will not tolerate it"

Following the first conviction for forced marriage under legislation brought in a year ago, Karen Bradley describes what the government is doing to combat the practice

Karen Bradley

Minister for Preventing Abuse and Exploitation

Posted on: Mon 22-Jun-15 11:13:17


Lead photo

"This is not arranged marriage. This is a terrible, hidden crime."

Forced marriage is a shocking practice – and sadly, it still happens here in modern day Britain. Young women, no more than girls, are forced against their will to marry men they have probably never met – they are threatened, coerced, and their lives are all too often destroyed. This is not arranged marriage, where families find suitable matches for children who want to make a commitment. This is a terrible, hidden crime, involving emotional abuse, physical violence and rape.

Earlier this month, a 34-year-old Cardiff man became the first person in the UK to be prosecuted under forced marriage laws brought in by the government a year ago. The legislation thrust the issue into the media spotlight, but we must ensure our drive to eradicate forced marriage does not waiver.

In my role as Minister for Preventing Abuse and Exploitation I have heard first-hand the shocking stories of many British women who have been subjected to forced marriages. One case that stands out is that of Rashid, who had just turned 18 when she suffered horrific violence at the hands of her father during a family 'holiday' in Pakistan. Why? Because she 'shamed' her family by refusing to marry her own cousin – a man she'd never met or spoken to before.

Growing up in the UK in the 1970s, Rashid was not allowed to have toys, or play with friends and instead was forced to cook, clean and wash clothes. By the age of just 13, Rashid's parents promised relatives that they would marry her to a cousin living in their home country.

To those people who say that the law is putting victims off speaking to the police, Rashid's story should make you think again. To those who say that the offence is forcing the practice underground, I say to you that it already is.

Rashid loved school and it was her only escape – she had aspirations of a college education, a career and a respectful relationship – but as she grew older, she learned more about the marriage that was planned for her. In a desperate cry for help Rashid attempted to explain the situation to her teachers and her family GP; all the warning signs were there but no one could or would help.

After being taken to Pakistan for the marriage a week before her 18th birthday, and then being beaten when she refused to go through with the ceremony, Rashid miraculously managed to escape and was smuggled back to the UK wearing a burkha.

With nowhere else to go, she returned to her parents' home despite her harrowing ordeal, but it wasn't long before she faced more violence.

The mental and emotional impact of the constant threat of abuse and the devastation of not feeling safe at home meant that Rashid had to get away before she was killed or kidnapped and taken back to Pakistan. One day she went to work and decided she wouldn't return, instead staying with a friend out of town.

When her father realised she hadn't come back, the family searched everywhere for her and she was reported missing to the police. But despite the continued harassment and the fear that came with it, Rashid stuck to her guns and never returned.

Against all the odds, Rashid managed to turn her life around. She is now a successful lawyer and helps victims of forced marriage, raises awareness and was one of a number of people who campaigned for the change in the law. She is currently an advisor on an independent inquiry into how police forces deal with honour-based violence.

However, not every woman manages to escape the devastation of forced marriage. We must continue to crack down on the perpetrators of this shocking crime and protect the victims and vulnerable.

Last year we made forced marriage illegal, with those convicted of the offence facing up to seven years in prison. We have also introduced Forced Marriage Protection Orders (FMPOs), which can be used to prevent a person from being forced into marriage and also protect a person already in a forced marriage from being threatened, harassed or harmed.

We know that criminalisation alone is not enough and we remain focused on prevention, support, and protection for victims and those at risk of becoming victims.

Our Forced Marriage Unit is leading efforts to combat forced marriage both at home and abroad. The unit runs a public helpline, providing direct assistance to victims and professionals responsible for safeguarding those at risk. It also conducts nation-wide outreach programmes and provides consular assistance overseas to victims to secure their return to the UK.

To those people who say that the law is putting victims off speaking to the police, Rashid's story should make you think again. To those who say that the offence is forcing the practice underground, I say to you that it already is.

While the new law will not put an end to every forced marriage, it sends a clear message that the UK will not tolerate forced marriage; that it is abuse and that it is illegal.

By Karen Bradley

Twitter: @karen__bradley

mamato3luvleys Mon 22-Jun-15 12:03:05

I once had a friend in comp who was Indian and after the summer when we returned to year 10 she never came back and I've often wondered if something terrible like an arranged marriage happened to her!

midnightvelvet01 Mon 22-Jun-15 14:05:01

Good post, 100% support from me. I've not heard the term forced marriage before & would have used the term arranged marriage to describe an arrangement where the bride was unwilling.

Tequilashotfor1 Mon 22-Jun-15 14:34:51

Brilliant work !

100% support of me also.

Tequilashotfor1 Mon 22-Jun-15 20:33:18

I'm suprised this has only attracted four postd sad

MoreBeta Mon 22-Jun-15 20:49:11

When does arranged marriage become defined as a forced marriage?

This is a genuine question.

Surely a very large number of arranged marriages involve a degree of coercion or 'family pressure'?

5secondstilltakeoff Mon 22-Jun-15 23:01:07

From my understanding forced marriages are where the option to say no are denied to you or where saying no can result in harm done to you.

I prefer to think of arranged marriages as assisted marriages as arranged implies you have no say and it is all done with out your consent. With assisted marriages the parents, extended family, friends, community look out for potential matches for you basically playing a matchmaker role. Introductions are conducted between the two potential matches normally with both families also being introduced. If there is an interest further meetings are conducted if not there is the embarrassing phone call to explain why either side is not interested. The big difference is both parties can say no for whatever reason they like without fear of harm coming to them. I understand your point about family pressure in some cases but I think the nature of it might be more emotional e.g. guilt rather than coercion.

zeddybrek Mon 22-Jun-15 23:03:42

Very encouraging to read about this, finally women at risk or already suffering may get some more help.

An arranged marriage is where families introduce you to potential suitors. Most importantly you have to consent to marriage.

Forced marriages are just that. You are forced against your will.

In Islam the woman must consent to the marriage. Forcing women to marry is cultural and not religious. I am Muslim and the imam who married us spent ages telling me my religious rights. He was fed up of women being forced and being made to believe they were powerless.

Just my opinion but I feel forced marriages are a way for men to control women, it's wrong and destroys lives. I pray that one day this practice dies out.

Thank you MN for this informative post.

5secondstilltakeoff Mon 22-Jun-15 23:11:05

I agree zeddy its an ugly practice. I have seen cases of young men also being forced to marry against their will (normally a woman from their country of origin) and then abusing their vulnerable partner out of resentment at having their choice taken away. I hope to see this practice come to an end soon.

Kampeki Mon 22-Jun-15 23:52:14

I think the distinction between arranged marriages and forced marriages is hugely important. I know many happily married couples who had arranged marriages. Forcing someone to marry against their will is something completely different. It's shocking - and deeply depressing - that it still goes on in this day and age. As others have said, it's usually culturally motivated, and nothing to do with religion.

wannaBe Tue 23-Jun-15 05:51:26

while no-one would dispute that introducing the laws on forced marriage is a good thing, IMO it's hugely misleading that this particular case was tried under forced marriage laws and somehow upheld as a victory in the new forced marriage laws.

My understanding is that the man became obsessed with the woman, stalked her, threatened her, forced her into his home and then locked her in where he raped her and threatened her family if she didn't marry him, so this is far, far from any kind of supposed cultural practice where e.g. a family forces their daughter into a marriage.... Surely what this man did was pure violence and there are already laws in place to have been able to take action against him for that.

I agree that there is a difference between forced marriage and arranged marriage, but equally I think that this particular case has also distorted the understanding of forced marriage.

woodhill Sat 11-Jul-15 22:32:27

it's horrible and I admire that woman for having the courage to refuse to marry her cousin. is this done to keep the money in the family.

isn't it risky genetically to marry a cousin?

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