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Last Updated: Monday, 5 September 2005, 19:51 GMT 20:51 UK
Forced marriage: Abuse to be outlawed?
Asian women
Some Asian communities are hit hard by forced marriages
As a consultation begins on whether to criminalise the practice of pushing people into forced marriages, what do those who work with victims feel about it?

Shaminder Ubhi, director of east London-based domestic violence service Ashiana, says one of the most frightening things about forced marriage is that once the ceremony is performed and a union formed - the abuse does not end.

Her organisation has offered support to those on the brink of, or who have escaped from, forced marriages.

The issue of forced marriage affects south Asian and other communities in the UK.

"Some young women have been imprisoned in their own homes, not being allowed to talk to their friends or contact anybody," says Mrs Ubhi.

"They know that a ticket has been bought, that they may be going to Pakistan, Bangladesh or India, and they know they are going back for marriage.

"Once they are abroad it's even harder. Even if they have been born in Pakistan or India, they don't know the system there, and they haven't got their support network.

We hear stories of rapes, abductions, beatings, forced abortions and forced pregnancies
Vinay Talwar
Head of Forced Marriages Unit

"Then there's the physical violence - if they have been forced into marriage - there's a greater chance they will be raped.

"And it doesn't stop once the marriage has been consummated."

According to the head of the Foreign Office's Forced Marriage Unit Vinay Talwar, although all victims share the same experience of having been unwillingly pushed into marital unions, no two cases are the same.

"We hear stories of rapes, abductions, beatings, forced abortions and forced pregnancies."

But there are also the women who are simply feeling intense pressure from their families to agree to an arranged marriage they do not want to undertake, says Mrs Ubhi.

Arranged or forced?

"They feel emotional pressure and coercion from parents, families, brothers, sisters. They are told they will bring shame on their families if they do not go along with it.

"They think maybe this is not the right choice but the pressure is so great that they say 'yes' and then think they have to get out of it."

Although the Foreign Office is keen to stress the difference between forced marriages and arranged unions, Mrs Ubhi, who does outreach work in the South Asian and Turkish communities of Waltham Forest, says it is not always that simple.

Although it is natural that immigrant communities want to hold on to aspects of their culture by encouraging their children to marry within their own community, she says, some take things too far.

Fields in Pakistan
Victims have been kidnapped and taken to Pakistan for marriage

"It's the pressure that people feel," she says.

"They think if I don't do this my parents will be really upset and I will bring shame on my family."

Mr Talwar says victims of the practice are victims of domestic abuse - a phenomena which effects women from all races, creeds and religions.

In Britain, Pakistani, Indian and Bangladeshi communities are particularly heavily hit, but it could just as easily be someone from a Christian Catholic background, he says.

Repeatedly raped

"In Germany and France, we hear anecdotally it is the Turkish and North African communities that are more affected."

The motivation for the family pushing daughters into a forced marriage also varies, he says.

One case Mr Talwar found particularly shocking was a that of a young girl who had been sexually abused.

"This young girl had been raped by a paedophile so the family wanted to take her overseas to get married to restore her honour.

"Then the marriage had to be consummated so she was raped again.

"Often the girls are raped again and again until pregnancy," he says.

Many women are not likely to want to see their father, brother and the rest of their family end up in court
Shaminder Ubhi
Ashiana director

Though often linked with so-called honour killings, restoring the family's prestige is not always the motivation for forced marriages.

Mr Talwar gives the example of a Christian who marries a child off because they are disabled or because they fear they are gay and believe a forced marriage will make them "normal".

But will criminalising the practice of forced marriage assist?

Mrs Ubhi says opinion is divided.

There are some who feel it could act as a deterrent in more extreme cases - but others feel it may be counterproductive, she says.

"Many women are not likely to want to see their father, brother and the rest of their family end up in court."

Mr Talwar says he is as yet undecided.

"The whole area is so incredibly complex, this is why we are having the consultation.

"This is very important work that we are doing and we have to get it right."


SEE ALSO:
Forced marriage 'could be banned'
05 Sep 05 |  UK Politics


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