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Monday, August 16, 1999 Published at 14:32 GMT 15:32 UK


Forced into wedlock

Up to 1,000 UK women a year may be forced to marry

Sixteen-year-old Maya thought she was going on a routine trip to Pakistan.

But, on arrival, she found that the journey was a ruse to force her to marry against her will.

As part of the Muslim marriage ceremony, she was supposed to nod her consent.

When it came to it, her aunt pushed her head down and this was enough to convince the priest that she consented.

But on returning to the UK, Maya told the authorities what had happened and they revoked her husband's visa to enter the UK.

Maya is just one of a minority of young British women, mostly from Asian backgrounds, who are forced into marriage.

Her case is highlighted in Wedlocked, a programme in the BBC Two's East series.

It asks why so little help is available to victims.

"Child abuse"

Some estimates put the number of women forced to marry at 1,000 a year. The campaign group Southall Black Sisters (SBS) says this is not an overestimate.

It believes the problem, which it calls a mixture of child abuse and domestic violence, is largely hidden.

It says women may be abducted, imprisoned or just "emotionally blackmailed" into marrying against their will.

"It is all essentially coercion and agencies must do their duty and ensure the law is enforced universally," said SBS spokeswoman Hannana Siddiqui.

"At the moment, some confuse arranged marriage with forced marriage and assume it is a cultural practice which the community can deal with. They need to recognise it as abuse."

Forced marriage, which cuts across religions, is against British law and the law in Asian countries and is not condoned by the Muslim faith which requires the consent of both parties.

At the beginning of August, the Home Office announced that it had set up a working group to look into the problem.

This followed high profile cases, such as the murder of Rukshana Naz, who was forced to marry at 15 and was killed by her relatives after becoming pregnant by her lover.

Raising awareness

The working group, headed by Baroness Uddin and Lord Ahmed, will aim to raise awareness about the problem and identify the role of education in reducing forced marriage and how agencies such as the police and social services should respond to it.

As the group was announced, Race Equality Minister Mike O'Brien said: "Forced marriages are wrong and we are determined to tackle the issue.

"The government must respond sensitively to issues of cultural diversity, but multicultural sensitivity is no excuse for moral blindness.

"Forced marriages will not be tolerated."

East shows how the problem has divided the Asian community.

It highlights the situation in Keighley, West Yorkshire, which has a high proportion of people of Pakistani origin.

Its Labour MP Ann Cryer fears her campaign against forced marriage, which she calls "appalling", could lose her her seat.

She says: "It's a brave girl who can get out of it."

But Sajid Khan, a spokesman for the Keighley Muslim Association, denies that forced marriage occurs in the town and calls Ms Cryer's campaign "hype".

He says he has lived there all his life and no member of his (all-male) group has come across a case.

But Ms Cryer says Asian men are happy to keep the problem under wraps, while women - whom she calls "the silent majority" - back her stance.

Dr Ghayasuddien Siddiqui, leader of the Muslim Parliament, also supports her and says Britain's Asian community needs to confront it.

Wedlocked is on BBC Two at 19.30pm BST on August 16.

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