At last the British Government has decided to make forced marriage illegal. A forced marriage is one where one or both of the participants have not given their consent. It is no marriage at all in the real sense of the word, it is legalised rape and it is a ban that has come into effect too late to save several generations of British girls born of immigrant parents, or grandparents.
Most, but not all, victims are girls and over half of them are less than 18 years old and come from Pakistani families. It is unbelievable that so many young British girls were vulnerable to what has been described by the Prime Minister, David Cameron, as a life of slavery. It is also heartbreaking to know that it was their parents who forced marriage upon them.
As the girls were unwilling to comply with traditions that were foreign to them trickery was resorted to in order to force the marriage and this was often achieved in the form of an invitation ‘home’ to meet the family in Pakistan.
When the girl arrived it was usual to ‘take care of’ her passport and whatever other steps were deemed necessary to keep her close to the family while arrangements were made. For some the pressure was too great, they eventually submitted. For others it was protest all the way with the odds mounted against them.
It has been reported that around 8,000 girls are at risk every year in Britain alone, a figure that is most prevalent in the Midlands and includes girls from Bangladeshi families as well as Pakistani ones.
A forced marriage should not be confused with an arranged marriage. In the latter the parents make a suggestion, it may be a strong one, it may come with considerable pressure but in the end it is the bride and groom who decide whether the arrangement is acceptable or not. Arranged marriages may not sound a romantic option either but partners who have entered into one often sing its praises and say that love comes with time.
It is possible to accept that the choice of loving parents with the wisdom of their years may well make at least as good a choice in marriage partner for their son or daughter who is agreeable to it, as might be made by their offspring while under the influence of ‘falling in love.'
There is a fear that girls forced into marriage may not report the abuse once the law is in place with a prison sentence accompanying it, for fear of incriminating their parents. The authorities drafting the new law must take this into account and take whatever steps are necessary to make the Bill enforceable and to protect young people from letting family loyalty ruin their lives. The Law is expected to come into effect next year.
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