Enforcing the unenforceabilty of forced marriages
It is estimated that around 1000 British teenage girls endure forced marriages every year. A quarter of these manage to contact the Forced Marriages Unit of the FCO, but the other 750 are effectively kidnapped and coerced, and their plight largely forgotten by society. There is one brave charity which deals with the most common consequence of forced marriages - domestic violence, rape, and sexual abuse, - but the Southall Black Sisters are despised by many in the Asian community for their interference in private family matters, and for betraying their cultural heritage. There are other brave souls, but they operate on the outer fringes of their communities.
The Conservative Party has decided to tackle this issue head-on, irrespective of the offence it might cause to many Asians, and indeed the damage that accusations of ‘racism’ might do to David Cameron’s Conservatives as they seek to impose a notion of ‘Britishness’. The intention is to make forced marriages ultimately unenforceable.
Good. Multicultural sensitivity is no excuse for moral blindness.
Shadow Immigration Minister Damian Green is going to insist that anyone planning to marry outside the UK will have to register their intentions, and disclose the name of their fiancé before leaving the country. The reasoning is that this would prevent girls being taken abroad ‘for a holiday’, only to find themselves being forcibly married off. They are too scared to object, and many are genuinely terrified of the very real possibility of being killed for bringing ‘dishonour’ upon the family.
Mr Green said: ‘It is the extreme and unacceptable end of the clash of values between a plural democracy that values individual human rights and belief systems that regard women as second-class.' His view is that the girls would be protected because ‘if they are not persuaded of the merits of their potential husband they can delay knowing that time is on their side’.
Cranmer believes this to be hopelessly naïve. While the intentions are honourable, and the pursuit of justice admirable, Mr Green has absolutely no idea of the intolerable pressures many of these young teenage girls endure. And neither does he grasp the Asian view of the family nor understand that many will find a hundred ways around these flimsy proposals.
The vast majority of teenage Asian girls and boys (for they are just as susceptible, and often the forgotten victims of this practice) are persuaded from a very early age of the virtues of ‘religious duty’ and ‘family honour’. These override all else. No Asian girl or boy goes abroad for ‘a holiday’ without there being months of family polite chit-chat of how ‘it might be time to think about marriage’. Asian teenagers are no more stupid than their Caucasion peers: they will know that a ‘holiday’ to Pakistan is likely to involve a wedding, and they are likely to have confided this to their closest school friends.
If the law is changed to force the disclosure of a name with a simple statement of intent, this will cause these Asian families very little difficulty. A name does not reveal ‘the merits of their potential husband’, and there is nothing in these proposals to make a period of ‘engagement’ in any sense obligatory. The teenage victims will still be just as scared and just as terrified of the consequences of bringing dishonour upon their families. They will, therefore, obey their elders. And if they do not obey, they will be 'assisted' to do so.
Mr Green makes clear that the Conservative Party has no problem with arranged marriages, and he insists these are distinct from those which are forced because of the consent that is given by both contracting parties. While this may be so for very many Asian teenagers, ‘arranged marriages’ for many more are just as forced, so much so that ‘arranged’ is but a euphemism for ‘forced’. When is this consent forcibly extracted? What pressure is there to consent? How do teenage girls resist the bullying of their fathers, brothers and uncles? And how does one define ‘forced’? One person’s ‘encouragement’, or ‘assistance’, may quite easily be perceived by someone else as force, coercion or obligation.
Perhaps the inadequacy of the proposals is better understood when it is considered that one of the Conservative Party’s principal advisers on the policy is the new shadow cabinet minister for Community Affairs, Sayeeda Warsi.
Baroness Warsi herself was 'obliged' to have an ‘arranged’ marriage, to which, no doubt, she gave her unqualified consent.