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Wednesday, 8 March, 2000, 10:29 GMT
Forced marriage: Should the UK Government interfere?
Many young UK women get forced into loveless marriages and stranded in South Asian countries against their will, according to the British Foreign Office.
The UK Government is to unveil plans that will address this issue, including an initiative that will see community groups both in the UK and overseas working together. They are keen to stress the issue is not arranged marriages but weddings without consent.
Do you think the proposed plans are a vital step forward, or should the government stay out of such sensitive cultural matters? Maybe this is an issue that has affected your family. Send us your views and experiences.
Why has nobody referred to caste? People from traditional societies who are in favour of arranged marriages are more afraid of their children marrying outside their own ethnic group than anything else. This applies to Muslims throughout South Asia, as well as those cultures that confer identity through caste. In anthropological terms it is known as endogamy. In political terms it is not too harsh to refer to it as racism.
The Pakistani Muslim community gives arranged marriage a bad name. I for one do not consider Muslims Asians, they are Persians they do not have the same values as South Asians (India and Sri Lanka).
Krishan Canagasabey, Ceylon Tamil, UK
Why all people are talking on the basis of religion? None of the religions forced you to marry anyone against your will. When there is marriage there is a possibility of divorce. It depend on individuals to work out things and not blame culture and religion. Sometimes what we call love is a misunderstanding or infatuation. You can also fall in love after getting married as well.
S. Khan, US
Forced marriages is not an Islamic practice. It's just one of the many practices wrong with Pakistani culture.
Affan Qureshi, USA
We Hindus have to realise that women have the same rights as men. Forcing a girl to marry someone she doesn't like or desire is an old practice that we need to abolish and the Hindu scholars must review this and issue a ruling.
Prakash Sudha, USA
The question is why these youth are raised in a fashion that they agree to marry someone they don't know. I am from India and I married out of my own free will a full 14 years ago. The boy and girl should shoulder some of the responsibility for their actions. It's for the comfort of shifting responsibility to their parents that they willingly go into this arrangement and (usually) when things don't turn out to be as rosy as dreamed, they start shouting coercion. Those aged 18 years and older should have the sense to say "no".
As for the male Indians who claim the low divorce rate in India or among Indians is better than the west - this is misleading. Indian women are trapped in loveless marriages forced to remain married as their parents will not have them back. We Indian women are often threatened and beaten by parents and brothers and led to believe no one will help us. Often emotional blackmail is used. Indians always use religion to force the girls into marriage. While the boys are free to run wild. These girls are British citizens irrespective of their race - no one has the right to abduct them. People have to comply with the rules of their resident country.
The boundary between forced and arranged marriages is in practice a blurry one. No intervention can distinguish the facts. Acting on arranged marriages would be an ethnocentric approach to the problem.
In Indian society if a girl wants to have a love marriage and the parents don't approve then there is hell, just because it was love - I know, the living proof is my sister. I personally shall not take my spirit away by getting into a forced or perhaps an arranged one. You realise that Asian women may now be put off by all this and may not marry. That's certainly happening to me. This is a surprise to my many Indian relatives who are already trying to find a partner for me.
Selena, HK (Indian)
I have known girls, some of whom who have barely reached puberty, spirited back to their parents home country, on pretence of it being a "holiday of a lifetime" to actually find themselves being the unwitting partner in an arranged marriage. As they the girls are technically British, they are then sent back to their country of birth to await the arrival of their husbands. If they refuse to allow their husbands into this country, the girl's family then become targets for the in-law relatives already in this country. Any pubescent girl should question their parents' motives for wanting to take them on "exotic" holidays.
A "bondage-marriage" scenario may occur if one opposes traditional values. An example? Princess Diana who violated the traditional norms of the Royal Family.
Tajudeen Isiaka, Nigeria
Having lived in the Middle East for 15 years I have seen many forced marriages. I have seen young girls aged 11 married to men in their 70's. I feel that out attitude here should be the same as their attitude when we live in their country, which is that you have to respect the country and the local custom. They must do the same in our country. We are a Christian Country and the Christian rule is that for a marriage to be valid both parties must freely consent.
R. E. Parker, UK
The low divorce rates in countries where arranged marriages are commonplace are not indicative of the superiority of this system over western love-marriages. In these countries divorce is taboo and strongly discouraged often through violence and/or unfair and unjust laws which leave the partner seeking divorce (often women) with literally the clothes on their back and nothing more. Where children are involved, a woman in an abusive arranged marriage will almost never be able to get a divorce for fear of losing her children. Those wishing to practise their cultural freedom of choice in ways which are illegal/immoral or unethical in the West have no place here.
As a regular visitor to India, I am always cautious when it comes to applying western morals to other cultures. However, in the case where any person (male or female) is being forced, against their will, into a marriage which is no more than slavery (I do not include arranged marriages in this, they are a very different matter) then it is time for all right thinking people to make a stand. For once I applaud government interference.
Stuart Brookes, UK
Arranged marriages are a cornerstone of social relations in many parts of the world. Upon them depend, education, religion, behaviours, traditions and many more aspects of life. Attacking such an institution through political action would trigger many more problems and reactions that might prove to be detrimental to the cause of free marriages. It would be wiser to let time, society and the example of the west to speak for themselves.
Igor Bosc, Ukraine
I'd like to say two things. Firstly, why is it that people cannot differentiate between consent and force? Arranged does not mean forced.
Secondly, if an arranged marriage doesn't work so what? In religions divorce is also a God given right to be exercised if appropriate.
M Kaiser, UK
One can consent to have an arranged marriage. Consent is a fundamental tenant of the marriage process is Islam.
Mr N, UK
Without a doubt women are entitled to a choice in the matter. Just as the government would have a say in who is entitled to adopt a child, the governing party needs to intervene. Give women the right to have a choice in the matter.
What makes a women's voice go unheard and without regard? Let men put themselves in the place of these women. In any case these women could be enslaved to perhaps a life of physical abuse and perhaps subject to infidelity. This is clearly unjust. Something must be done.
Jennifer Lopez, USA
Maybe the British should try to fix the high divorce rates in their own country first?
Forced marriages force unwilling females into situations that they have no control over; however, I don't see why a government need interfere in something they don't even understand.
The truth of the matter is one can not offer change people and traditions set from long ago. Unless a person has a tyrant of a parent, outsiders never really understand the situation. I only speak from personal experience.
It's only right that you should also expose that honest good natured Hindu and Sikhs boys and girls in this country (UK) are also forced into marriages. Can we now see you exposing the unacceptable forced marriages of Hindus and Sikhs? Which in fact is far more common that you think.
Imtiaz Khan, UK
I strongly believe that its about time for this government to do something about these forced marriages. I have been teaching for a while and have experienced the trouble the girls go through. Its very hard for these children to break away from the family. It's mostly the girls who suffer because these parents have double standards. They put a lot of restrictions on their daughters but none on the boys. Even the siblings are not kind to their sisters.
It's a complicated issue, therefore the government has to work with the educated people of the community to make an impression on those parents who don't think about the wishes of their children. This nothing to do with Islam. It's sheer illiteracy, ignorance and small town mentality.
People from the less developed countries eagerly immigrate to industrialised societies. No one forces them, on the contrary they resort to every legal and illegal measures to become citizens of the countries, where they find their lives much better than the countries they willingly leave behind. They cannot expect their children to grow up in an industrialised society and yet follow the mores of the country which they abandoned.
AVR Rao, USA
Attitudes such as Bhupendra's suggesting that this is a family issue rather than a legal one are misguided because human rights are central to the concern. If your family ideology is not in line with your country of residences standard on human rights, then perhaps you should return to the country of your origin where forced marriage is acceptable.
Arranged marriage with consent is fine, but anything that forces an individual (male or female) into marriage OUGHT TO BE ILLEGAL in any country which cherishes personal freedom.
Mabuti Ng'andu, USA
All my Western friends who write to this column need to be reminded of the failure of the Western Society. There are no moral principles that people adhere to. The sky-high divorce rates are just pointers. Arranged marriages are better any day, as they are not influenced by sexual attraction or infatuation, which plague love-marriages.
Ashwin, Indian-studying in the USA
Isn't choice a basic human right? Saying that forced marriages are part of a religion is nonsense. IF you want to allow this evil to exist in your society then shame on you, If we allow other to do it in ours .. Shame on us.
Shay Doyle, USA
Instead of asking a professional dating service I asked my parents to find a potential spouse for me (I made the final decision, my parents only suggested and gave me advise and support). 'Forced' marriage is no marriage at all - by any ideologies' principles - it is simply a terrible crime. It is made even more terrible when the victim is a child. Any civilised government is duty-bound by its own laws to fight this crime.
Usman Khan, Pakistan
If love blossoms between two people of the age of consent, no-one has any right of interference, not even the parents. No child should have to marry someone she or he does not love. It is after all that child and not its parents who will have to live with the decision, good or bad. Family unity is important however.
Simon Cameron, UK
I entered into an "arranged" marriage, though by consent. I found that most of the information and promises were lies and deception and since, in Asian culture, a girl has to stay in the marriage once you are married, found myself trapped. The parents-in-law tried to extract money using violence, and expected me to play the role of a domestic servant to their son and daughters and themselves. Fortunately I am a strong character and was able to resist it, though I lived in fear and turmoil for the duration of the marriage. Deceptions like this are very common in arranged marriages.
Jenny W, UK
Arranged marriages take place by the consent of both the partners. It is wrong to call it anti human. While the western way of marriages where you try all options to find love is known to breed promiscuity and total lack of ethics. The high Divorce rate is just one of the consequences. While forcing someone to marry whether arranged or not is wrong, blaming arranged marriage is another thing. Good lots of these marriages are more successful than the western style marriages.
Mohamed Shaib, USA
All religions are, to a certain extent, repressive. One must conform to their rules or be expelled from the church/social group supported by that church. Some religions deny women the right to decide what happens in their own bodies, some deny women the right to control their fertility, some deny even the fact that women have souls and consider them possessions. Forced marriages are an affront to any intelligent, knowledgeable person, to anybody who has sat down and thought through his/her place in society/the world/humanity. The way to stop this is by informing people of what possibilities are open to them. School is where this should start with the elimination of religious instruction and the introduction of some more widely-reaching social orientation.
Martin Wragg, UK
The usual lectures by those with very little knowledge of Asian society. Despite all the caveats listed on this page Steve Foley still equates arranged marriages with forced marriages and A Fairley offers no evidence whatsoever when speciously proposing that most forced marriage appear in Muslim... societies ... hmm I wonder where the real ignorance and intolerance lies here.
Stella Marks, London, UK
Why do people say women are the only "victims" of arranged marriages. What about the men?
Both arranged and forced marriages are an abomination to any fair-minded person. A human being should have the right to marry whom they choose of whatever colour or religion or social class and either have children or remain childless as they and their partner wish. Now that we are in the 21st century it is no longer acceptable for parental, cultural, or religious bodies to force a union onto anyone male or female against their will.
Steve Foley, England
Arranged marriages are an important part of many cultures and religions. In unveiling such plans the government is holding such cultures accountable to Christian values. This is at best unwise, at worst racist.
Having lived in the Indian subcontinent for a number of years I have seen at first hand the devastating effect forced marriages have on young women. Rape and imprisonment in their in-laws' homes is far too commonplace to be ignored any longer.
I have spoken with many such women who are afraid to speak out in fear of their lives. Surely it is the duty of the British Government to protect the human rights of its Citizens. Can we justly abandon these young women in the name of protecting cultural sensitivities?
It is somewhat ironic that instances of forced marriages occur predominantly in Muslim societies since Allah created men and women as equals.
A Fairley, Scotland
It is criminal to marry some one against one's wishes. As long as a person is strong enough to oppose and also the government have laws to punish the guilty. For me arranged marriage or love marriage does not matter as long as the individuals married know what they are getting into. Anyway, people get divorced if they don't like it.
For me, no matter what preconditions determine people to get married, it is a failure if that ends in a divorce. I have stopped believing that only love marriages work after seeing the high divorce rates in the Western nations. I know it is 50% in USA.
Udai Kumar, India
I don't think that the government should interfere with religious attitudes. The UK allows religions freedom to operate within the UK laws and forcing someone do something that they do not want, should be illegal.
It is a common misconception in UK and in the US that Islam forces marriage on women, when nothing could be farther from the truth. The truth of the matter is that Islam gives women the complete right to decide whether a suitor is acceptable to her. If a marriage is forced on a Muslim woman by her family or any one else, then Islamically that would be unacceptable and illegal.
Besides forced marriages being confining and a terribly cruel thing to do to anyone, it should be understood in such circumstances, cultural anomaly and NOT Islam should be held to blame.
Tahir Nawab, USA
Let's just get the facts right. Arranged marriages are not something that is done exclusively between parents. The boy/girl also have a choice to say no if they feel they don't like a potential partner. Indeed this happens quite often until you meet someone that you feel is the right person for you. The process is simply a lot more organised than the "normal" boy meets girl process. Moreover, even after a couple have "agreed" they typically go out on dates before they are engaged and married. Arranged marriages occur in many societies and are not exclusive to Asians. Indeed you could argue some of the marriages that have taken place within the royal family were arranged.
Who has given the British government the right to interfere. Arranged marriages have been part of South East Asian culture for centuries. In fact in many Moslem countries, living in sin, is more offensive than arranged marriages.
Please live and let live. Is the divorce rate amongst arranged partners any higher than in the West? I seriously doubt it!
This brings up a lot of the issues that were touched upon in previous Talking Points. There are a couple of questions. Obviously this is not to be condoned from the "Christian and Western" vantage point, but is this common practice in countries where these religions are dominant? If this is part and parcel, however ugly, of these cultures, then we have a conflict.
The wish to integrate diverse social groups into the UK is a difficult balancing act. At what point does legislation take authority over religious practices of minority groups? As another example, what about circumcision?
Matt, Netherlands (ex. UK)
I think the current framework of law should be enough to handle this, if at all someone sees it as an issue. All they have to do is to make the youngsters and their parents to be aware of existence of such kind of laws that protect citizens' personal rights, whatever it may be.
I certainly am against forced marriages and fully support any legislation towards the same. But there is a clear distinction between forced and arranged marriages. I myself willingly had an arranged marriage and I am very happy about it.
If you look at statistics the divorce rates in India are like about 1 in 10000 or even less. There is no doubt that arranged marriages are more successful. Look at the huge number of failed marriages in the Western nations.
Nandu More, Indian living in USA
The implementation of the Human Rights Act must surely mean that forced marriages are outlawed as a violation of rights. It's absurd that it should go on in this country, and the social pressures upon young women to conform and agree to marry men they do not want to is an example of the denial of women's rights.
Women who refuse to conform risk rejection and in some cases extreme violence from their society. The 'so called' agreed marriages are a sham, relying upon the woman's unwillingness to stand up for her rights.
Hannah Mackinlay, UK
As an Asian man living in the UK, I agree strongly with protecting women from this terrible issue of forced marriages. I personally know of very few situations where marriages have been forced upon a women, but these few have been terrible for the girls in question.
It is a pity that women need to be protected in this way. What angers me the most, is that some cultures base the idea of forced marriages on conforming with their religion. It has nothing to do with this, it's just people clouding religion with stupid, outdated traditions.
If it protects basic human rights, then it is with out doubt the responsibility of the government to protect people.
T. Gill, UK
The government should absolutely intervene if marriages are being forced upon either the man or the woman. Arranged marriages are a different matter and if both parties consent then there is no problem. Forcibly sending a young British citizen to marry someone from a different country is something else entirely and should without doubt be banned.
It is a fact, well researched by Panorama last year, that forced marriages are quite prevalent in some "ethic" minority communities. Bradford was highlighted as a "problem" area.
There can be NO "cultural" excuses for this barbaric and totalitarian practice. It is imperative that our government takes steps to protect the women who, otherwise, are left to go through hell or fend for their rights against tremendous odds. A good start would be to prohibit the "importation" of "would be migrant" husbands into the country, except through the same rules as apply to ordinary migrants, i.e. educational qualifications, job prospects, health, character, etc. The women in question should be counselled to ensure that they are not subject to any "culturally" enforced code of acquiescence.
Forced marriage should be outlawed, it is a form of abduction, which is a crime, or even kidnapping which is another crime.
It must be made clear there is a world of difference between arranged marriage, a contract freely entered into by both parties and forced marriage where coercion and duplicity is used by one party on another. Culture and custom can never excuse forced marriage.
Brian Binney, UK
People have ideas about Indian subcontinent that could not be further from the truth. Marriage in India is not only between two human beings but between the families as well. They have an entire system where generations are checked to see if there is any history of mental or physical illness. There are safeguards against having offspring with genetic illnesses.
True, marriage should not be forced upon anybody, but then it is not governments' job to decide how a culture should behave by implementing new laws or regulations, but educate the people. This is a family issue not a legal or governmental one. Stay out.
Bhupendra M. Rajpura, USA
Arranged marriages are a relic of the past. In reality, it continues to go on because of the greed of the parents of the boy, who wish to finally capitalise on the 'investment' made on their son's education and upbringing. It can be compared to a 'cattle market', where the best stud fetches the highest offer i.e., dowry.
Unfortunately, the bride has little to say in this bargaining and can sometimes land herself in real hell! Besides, the incidence of broken and failed marriages ending up in divorce seems to be on the rise - especially in the so-called 'arranged marriages'. Arranged marriages were a social-security system in the under-developed societies of India and Pakistan. Today, it is pure business.
S. Kumar, Finland
Yes, this is a step that should be taken. We should respect different cultures but not where they violate basic human rights.
Grainne Phillips, Ireland
We recently had a very distressed - terrified Asian girl (23) run into our house because she had managed to escape her family which were sending her away for an arranged marriage. So much for loving children, no-one should have to go through the fear she was experiencing, especially as she was bought up in this country - what do the parents expect.
I think within this debate, is is extremely important to emphasise the difference between arranged marriages and forced marriages. Forced marriages are indefensible and cannot be justified under any circumstances. I say this because I am sick and tired of people (mostly non-Asians) telling me how arranged marriages should be banned.
Yes ban forced marriages but there are many like myself who go into arranged marriages willingly and no I was not simple-minded, stupid or coerced by my parents. Yes some arranged marriages do not work out, but then all marriages are a risk.
N. Khan, UK
I don't understand the question or controversy here. If the British government can show that some of its female citizens have been forced into marriages contrary to their will, of course action should be taken to relieve the plight of those poor women. Is anyone actually arguing against that? And if so, how?
Rath Andor, USA
Arranged marriage has no place in a modern world. It takes no account for the diversity of people, their sexual desires, sexual orientation, or compatibility. Marriage is not for the parents to decide, and the UK is right to fight for the abolition of this cruel intrusion on human rights.
Tim Groves, UK
This has to be one of the stickiest issues. But whilst cultural understanding and respect are very important, I think that the action is justified IF the government has the backing of the women involved.Disclaimer: The BBC will put up as many of your comments as possible but we cannot guarantee that all e-mails will be published. The BBC reserves the right to edit comments that are published.
Bearing in mind that the women are being forced into a marriage, having to leave all they have built up here and having to go and live in a new country and a new culture - I think that this could be considered a human rights abuse.
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