Thursday, March 6, 2008

UK: Missing Girls Turn Up in Forced Marriages

An email tipster sent me a link to an article in today's BBC News entitled Lost girls in 'forced marriages'. Here it is, in its entirety:

Dozens of girls are missing from schools in Bradford despite efforts to track them down, MPs have been told.

Authorities suspect 23 children from the city have been "taken abroad to participate in forced marriages", Labour MP Keith Vaz said.

Children's minister Kevin Brennan told the Commons Home Affairs committee that the issue was a "serious concern".

The government had identified 14 other areas with suspected high rates of so-called "honour violence", he added.

Mr Vaz, the committee's chairman, said that he was "shocked" by the figures.

Rescue operations

Mr Brennan told MPs that Bradford City Council had lost track of 205 youngsters aged under 16 from its school rolls in 2007.

Following inquires, 172 were tracked down - but 23 were left unaccounted for.

"What we need to try to do is seek an explanation of what has happened," he said.

Asked whether the police were searching for them, he added: "They should be."

The government investigates 300 forced marriages a year, including about 70 overseas rescue operations.

It has established a special Forced Marriages Unit which mounts clandestine rescue operations predominantly to help British women forced into relationships in Pakistan.

Forced marriages are different to Asian traditions of arranged marriages which are freely-agreed matches, facilitated by families.

The UK's elite opinionmakers are so PC, that they refuse to connect any dots here.

Notice, by the way, that last paragraph: "Forced marriages are different to Asian traditions of arranged marriages which are freely-agreed matches, facilitated by families." And, of course, we know that there could be no compulsion within a family, so any arranged marriage is not forced.... (*wink* *wink*)

Fox News had this article, U.K. Eyes Forced Marriages in Students' School Absences:

More than 30 children have been absent for at least two months from school rosters in an English city and officials fear they may have been forced into arranged marriages, The Daily Mail reported on Wednesday.

The 33 students have been absent without explanation from schools in Bradford, northern England, which The Mail reports has a substantial Asian population.

"It is a serious concern when any child, any single child, becomes unaccounted for," said Children's Minister Kevin Brennan, who on Tuesday released the findings before the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, which is probing forced marriages in at least 14 other areas of the country.

A spokesman for the department of children, schools and families said forced marriages have been reported in Bradford, but there is no evidence the children in question had been forced to wed, The Daily Mail reports.

A Bradford schools spokesman said it is possible the children’s families had moved away and their parents failed to register them at their new schools, the story reports.

Three years ago the government instituted the national Forced Marriage Unit to combat "an abuse of human rights and a form of domestic violence."

Laws are going into effect this summer to let victims obtain court injunctions against anyone attempting to force them to marry, The Daily Mail reported.

In responding to the Bradford figures, Committee Chairman Keith Vaz said in The Mail story: "The figures you have given us quite frankly have shocked members of this committee just in relation to Bradford. ... This is totally unsatisfactory."

Click here for more on this story from The Daily Mail.

The Daily Mail article is just as devoid of information -- but, it's safe journalism for a PC climate.

An Oxfordshire, UK, website entitled Forced Marriage Awareness has this to say on the topic of force marriages:

Forced marriage is an issue which we still know too little about. Currently some two hundred cases of forced marriage are reported to the Foreign & Commonwealth Office each year, but it is likely that many more go unreported*. It is in response to this that the forced marriage awareness website was set up. We hope it will:

- Heighten awareness of the existence of forced marriage, and of the issues surrounding it.
- Increase understanding of what constitutes forced marriage.
- Provide practical information on what to do if you or someone you know (be it colleague, patient or friend) is fearful of being made to marry against their will or has already been forced into marriage.

Whilst this site has been established by the Oxfordshire NHS, we recognise that forced marriage is an international issue. We aim to provide links to support organisations across the country but regret that we are unable to provide direct assistance to those who aren't resident in Oxfordshire. Instead we recommend that you contact your local social services department, citizens advice bureau or police for individual help and support.

The connection between forced marriage and other violence and crime against women should hopefully be obvious to my readers: in accordance with certain tribal customs, institutionalized in some religious practices (not only Islamic), women are treated not even as second-class citizens, but as property. One report quoted at the International Campaign Against Honour Killings has this information about violence against women:

According to data compiled by a local NGO, out of seven categories of violence against women, 901 cases of murder of women in Punjab took place last year. Such highest number of women murder cases is due to an inadequate and discriminatory legal framework for women victims seeking redress of their grievances. It is strange that out of 901 women murder cases, only 657 cases were registered with only 122 accused arrested. The second most common form of violence against women was kidnapping. About 688 women were kidnapped, out of which only 449 cases were registered and 49 accused arrested. The data also shows that 500 women committed suicide, out of which 263 were married women and 237 single. Nearly 457 women were molested, but only 295 cases were registered. Out of 317 cases of physical torture and harassment, the number of cases reported in the media was 205. Approximately 230 women were physically tortured whereas 87 were sexually harassed and 100 others burnt deliberately over petty issues. Only 47 cases were registered, but three accused were arrested. Out of 74 domestic violence cases, only 36 were registered and 11 accused were arrested.

It is ironical that despite the presence of a law imposing death penalty for those found guilty of committing honour killings and the Women’s Protection Act, cases of violence against women have not decreased. It is the responsibility of the government to do more to eradicate such evil practices. It is also due to the fact that the male-dominated society is not ready to recognise women as equal human beings and grant them human rights and justice. If the government really thinks that merely passing legislation would help change the age-old social, cultural and traditional attitudes, then it is its mistake. On the other hand, most women have no knowledge about their rights and are quietly suffering their troubled lives. The situation in urban areas is a little better in the sense that due to education, women are more aware of their rights. The condition in the rural areas is opposite and women are treated badly there. There is no proper mechanism whereby women can ask for protection from their attackers. The law enforcement forces discourage women from filing any such cases and sometimes are even involved in torturing and molesting the already battered female victims who dare to raise their voice against any injustice.

The customs like vinni and swara (exchange of women, mostly young girls, to settle disputes) and karo kari (honour killings) are considered a norm. There are tall claims on the part of the government of giving more rights to women, but practically there is no major change. Mere giving 33 percent representation to the womenfolk is assemblies is no solution to this issue. Simple using the women rights issue for political gains is not sufficient to solve it, some practical steps are badly needed for the purpose. These problems can be addressed properly only if women are encouraged to take up their issues themselves. Political empowerment is not a sufficient condition, but it is the first and utmost necessary condition for obtaining women’s rights. A system based on equality and cooperation would lay the foundations for eliminating all forms of exploitation and oppression of women. Without taking some concrete steps towards women’s incorporation into the mainstream polity, the very goal of giving Pakistani women their due place in society will remain unfulfilled.

This practice, while fairly prevalent in the Islamic world, is not universally accepted among Muslims. An excerpt of an article from Islam for Today (linked in my sidebar):

Forced Marriages Condemned

English convert to Islam, Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood, speaks out against the practice, common among south Asian Muslims in Britain, of marrying off teenage girls against their will to unsuitable husbands from "back home".

'Truly Allah has totally forbidden disobedience (and the subsequent hurt) to mothers, burying alive daughters, with-holding the rights of others, and demanding that which is not your right.' (Hadith Muslim 4257. Recorded by Mughirah b. Shuba).

With these simple words our Beloved Prophet expressed so much that should convince any Muslim person seeking to force a marriage upon a daughter (or son) that what they are intending is not only terribly wrong, but also in direct opposition to the true spirit of Islam.

At first glance, it looks as if it is ammunition to be used against the daughter who does not want to accept the proposed husband and is going against her mother's wishes, but further insight reveals there is far more to it than that. There are three further totally forbidden things that the parents should 'take on board'. It is quite clearly NOT the right of the parent to enforce a marriage; and Muslim parents are NOT allowed in Islam to withhold the rights of their daughters. One could even make out a case for extending the interpretation of the phrase 'burying daughters alive' to refer not only to the desert practice of being rid of infant girls by putting them face down in the sand shortly after birth (rather like drowning baby puppies before they have drawn breath), which hardly applies to our situation today - but the practice of 'burying them alive' in a forced marriage. What could be more like being buried alive than being forced to share a bed and distasteful intimacy with a completely unwanted spouse?

This seems to be a part of the Asian culture that no-one wanted to see prolonged here in the UK. It has nothing to do with Islam - the practice is also carried out by Hindus and Sikhs as well. It is a practice totally alien to Muslims of most other societies. To be quite frank, I assume that the real reason for it happening at all is not the wish of parents to make their children unhappy, for surely most parents dearly love their children. I assume one of the main reasons for it probably lies in the strong sense of duty and honour and obligation that is shared by Asian Muslims - and these are not bad things, of course. However, the young girls are being used as pawns in a bit of wheeling and dealing. It may be that the original family members who came to the UK had benefited from a great deal of financial help from their families (and even whole village communities who perhaps 'clubbed together'). Those immigrants may not have intended to remain in the UK, and thanks to the increasing use of the telephone, never really felt completely cut off from their roots. Even in the 90s, when I married a Pakistani man, I found he remained in daily contact with his family back home.


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