Charity speaks out on forced marriages

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A LEADING Pakistani heritage charity has welcomed the Government’s tough stance on the issue of forced marriages within the Asian community.

One Voice is a progressive charity set up to improve the socio-economic well-being of the Pakistani heritage community in Lancashire. It has indicated its full support in some of the initiatives set up to deal with aspects of forced marriages.

A forced marriage is a marriage where one or both prospective spouses do not consent to the marriage and duress is involved. This can involve physical, psychological, financial, sexual and emotional pressure and influence.

Khalid Saifullah, who chairs One Voice, said: “This is an issue that has gone on far too long, and has to be stopped. We should always encourage children to seek their parents’ consent and approval and we fully support arranged marriages.

“Parents play a very important role in the lives young children but unfortunately there is a very small minority of parents who abuse their position as parents and use various under-hand tactics to force their children into a marriage they are unhappy with subsequently ruining their life. Parents have no right to force their child into a marriage that he or she is against.”

The charity also feels the whole community needs to get more involved.

“I commend some women groups for trying to tackle this issue but they cannot succeed without wider community support. One Voice supports the Government’s strong stance on forced marriages but strongly urges the Government to work with and support existing groups who have the experience to engage the communities concerned effectively and sensitively,” added Khalid.

Forced marriages are not illegal in the UK. However, many of the processes that lead to these type of marriages will have elements that can lead to prosecution. These include kidnap, assault and bodily harm.

At the moment, legislation surrounding forced marriage is civil, not criminal. The Forced Marriage Act 2007 permits courts to issue forced marriage protection orders when a victim, friend or local authority raises the alarm. A breach of such an order can result in up to two years imprisonment.

While the majority of victims are female, around 14% of complainants are male. Many of the cases also involve one of the parties travelling abroad to take part in the forced marriage.

The Home Office estimates between five and eight thousand forced marriages are reported in England each year. They include cases from Afghanistan, north and east Africa, Bangladesh, India, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and Turkey.

One Voice is in the process of setting up a task group to liaise with educational professionals, the police, parent groups, mosques and women’s groups to make forced marriage prevention a leading issue in their 2012 initiatives.

If you would like to support this initiative please contact One Voice by emailing one-voice@live.co.uk