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Friday, 8 February, 2002, 16:22 GMT
Arranged marriages: The Muslim Council of Britain
To watch coverage of the forum, select the link below:

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A debate on arranged marraiges has been called for by Home Secretary David Blunkett.

Mr. Blunkett wants to see "a discussion" within communities which practise arranged marriages, as to whether more of them could be undertaken in the UK.

He says he wants to "break down...the terrible tensions that exist when people feel trapped between two different cultures and backgrounds."

But a Labour Peer, Baroness Uddin, has called the suggestion "deeply offensive" to the Asian community and wants the Home Secretary to think again."

Should the government be involved in arranged marriages? Would it encourage social integration? Or does it infringe freedom of choice.

Councillor Afzal Khan, Assistant Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain took your questions in a live forum.


Transcript:


Newshost:

Paul, England: I notice with worry that people are confusing "arranged marriages" with "forced marriages". Isn't the problem with enforced marriage? By consummating such a marriage does rape occur? Therefore the only real solution to make it clear that forced marriage will not be tolerated and to make it a criminal offence.


Afzal Khan:

Yes, I think that is a very important point that we need to separate the two. As far as a forced marriage is concerned or even a sham marriage, that should not be acceptable. Nobody accepts that and if there is a criminal offence we would welcome that. The other point is the traditional arranged marriage - that is something that has been going on within the Asian community and some other cultures where the marriage is arranged by the partners - the two people who are involved , then also the parents and perhaps other relatives who come together and share their views and ideas and then they arrive on a suitable marriage and that is something that we should not interfere with.


Newshost:

James, UK: Doesn't the Government have to be involved in the issue of arranged marriages if it results in people from other countries being brought in as partners for a current citizen?


Afzal Khan:

Well, I think they do get involved as far as immigration laws are concerned. You have to obtain an entry clearance, have to satisfy the various requirements about the law and that is the limit where we should stay. The Government should not be involved in telling the individual about the choice of who they should get married to and the procedures they want to follow that - whether or not it's a traditional marriage or the other - that should be left to the individual to make that choice.


Newshost:

Just to make a point here because obviously Mr Blunkett isn't here to speak for himself. He is making the point that it isn't going to be an order - it's not going to be legislation - he is just making a remark that it may be in the interests of many Asian women who are educated and live in the same social background that others may do that he is making a valid point he says and he feels that to ignore such an issue, could be a form of reverse racism. What do you say to that?


Afzal Khan:

If he is talking about the individuals who are educated here, then I can assure him they're more than capable of looking after their interests and they will speak out themselves.


Newshost:

Chris, UK: Do you think that "a free and democratic society" such as the United Kingdom should enforce a policy on marriage? If this sort of thing is to happen, shouldn't it apply to everyone? So that no British person be allowed to marry anyone from outside the country?


Afzal Khan:

Yes of course that's another way of looking at it. Our position remains that it's not the business of the Government - it should be the choice of the individual. If the individual happens to meet someone who they like and they want to get married to and they happen to be from another part of the country then we should not interfere provided they can satisfy the necessary requirements under the legislation of the immigration rules.


Newshost:

Shuman, France: Do you think that the Government should get involved only when asked to by the person concerned?


Afzal Khan:

Yes, I think that what happens at the moment is this. If an individual feels that they have been forced into something then the Government will come to their assistance and there are examples of that - not only the Government, I am sure many community leaders, the relatives and the family will also move in to help. That is something which is not acceptable - forcing somebody to get married to someone simply either to bring them to this country or whatever reason. Providing the real choice is not given then that should not be acceptable.


Newshost:

Martin, UK: I think some of the correspondents have got off track. I've no problem with arranged marriages, and neither does the Government appear to. The issue is; should the British taxpayers shell out for someone brought into this country as a bride when there are plenty of available women already resident in the UK?


Afzal Khan:

Again I think we seem to be missing something - it is the individual's choice. What right do we have to limit that choice for the individual. On a personal level I have no problem if an individual finds somebody in this country - it would be far easier. But if somebody sees that there is somebody who is suitable who is not in this country, again that choice should be left to that individual.


Newshost:

Coming back to the Home Secretary's remarks, do you think he was being racist in what he said?


Afzal Khan:

I don't think the Home Secretary is a racist at all. Perhaps he may have said it in a way which can be construed wrongly. He could have made it clearer that he was talking about the sham or forced marriages and not arranged marriages.


Newshost:

But he is stimulating a debate here and he evidently wants to. So do you think this is going to do harm or good?


Afzal Khan:

I think the debate will not do any harm - it will make things clearer and people outside will also understand that there is a difference between a forced marriage and an arranged marriage. Arranged marriages are quite successful and those who want to practise that should be allowed to do that.


Newshost:

Vinod Chhotu Patel, West Bromwich, UK: What exactly is David Blunkett saying here anyway, that British people shouldn't marry non-British people, or that only British "Asians" shouldn't marry non-British people?


Afzal Khan:

Yes, I am not quite sure. I think the inference must be that there is a problem if they happen to be from a particular background but not British English in the sense of white indigenous. But again the problem could be wider - there may well be and there are cases where a white English female or male who happens to go abroad or meet somebody and they want to get married and that choice would affect them as well.


Newshost:

Arif Sayed, Dubai, UAE: Arranged marriages are an integral part of the culture and tradition of many ethnic societies. It is also a right of an individual to choose the method for finding a partner irrespective of the country of abode. Social integration will come about through education and not by immigration control or legislation.


Afzal Khan:

I couldn't agree more with that - that should be the way forward. That it's through education not through legislation because you cannot really change things through just simply legislation - it's the attitudes that need to be changed. But on this particular issue, I think that individuals or the Asian community, who are the people who mostly practise this, should be allowed to get on with that providing that the individuals are giving proper choice. Some of things could be developed in the schools where we educate the male or female about their rights. So they are aware of that so nobody is abused like that.


Newshost:

Reshma, UK: Do you think Mr Blunkett first of all needs to understand what is meant by the term "arranged marriage" before trying to address whether or not it should be practised in the UK?


Afzal Khan:

That was exactly my feeling as well. That perhaps he has got it confused or it may have been a loose tongue in a sense in that he said something and perhaps he didn't mean that. I am sure if someone went back to him and asked him to clarify this he would say that arranged marriages are fine, it's the forced marriages and sham marriages which we have a difficulty with. We need to look at it as a society and I am sure he'll find a lot of support for that.


Newshost:

Andrew, UK: I quite like Blunkett but I am a bit puzzled by his motives here. If he is really trying to stem the flow of immigrants into the UK, why doesn't he just come out and say so?


Afzal Khan:

I don't think that is what his motive is because it was the Labour Government which removed some of the restrictions - the prime purpose rule - which was considered to be discriminatory. So I don't think that is the case. He may generally feel that there is a case where some people are being abused and therefore we're talking in the area of sham marriages or forced marriages. I personally feel that he has used the wrong term and that confusion may be in his mind or the wrong use of the term.


Newshost:

So you don't think he has given a lot of thought to this then?


Afzal Khan:

It is possible that he has used the wrong term. He is a human being, we are all weak and sometimes say things that we don't necessarily mean. I feel that what he probably means is the forced marriages or the sham marriages.


Newshost:

This hasn't gone down very well on the Back Benches. Do you think that there's going to be some form of revolt from Labour MPs?


Afzal Khan:

I don't think so. I am sure the Home Secretary probably will take the opportunity at some stage and clarify the position and I strongly feel that he will make it clear that it is the forced marriages and the sham marriages he is talking about.

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