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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 March 2006, 10:23 GMT
Forced marriage made me suicidal
Emily Buchanan
World Affairs Correspondent

The government is launching a campaign to promote greater awareness of forced marriages, aimed at news media in the UK and abroad.

Legislation is in the pipeline, although a decision has still to be made whether to make forced marriage a criminal offence. About 1,000 cases come up each year in Britain.

Ring being placed on finger
There are about 1,000 forced marriage cases a year in the UK

Forced marriage is a life sentence, even for those who escape like Khalid - now too nervous to reveal his real name.

Rejecting a forced marriage means dishonouring the whole family.

Khalid grew up in the north of England. When he was just nine years old he was taken to Pakistan to get engaged.

At 17 he was sent back for his wedding.

"I was put in a village mosque and told, 'If you don't get married you will stay here for the rest of your life'."

I was put in a village mosque and told, 'If you don't get married you will stay here for the rest of your life
Khalid

He refused, but later under huge emotional pressure he agreed to marry his first cousin.

When he brought her back to the UK, he left her.

At a stroke, his family disowned him.

"I realise now why they did it," he says.

"I still love them, but they don't love me because I didn't respect what they were doing."

My husband, who was older than my father, had a virgin - so he was happy
Farida

For women a forced marriage is a prison few escape from.

It affects those mainly from some African and Asian cultures.

At the Doli Project in Birmingham they try and offer a refuge.

In the past three months they have seen 18 cases.

Farida has bright, warm eyes and long dark hair and comes across as a remarkable survivor.

When she was 15 she was sold by her grandfather for 1,000 and sent from North Africa to Birmingham to be married.

She remembers being dressed up and serving coffee to two men who were visiting her family.

One was dressed in a suit and the other was filthy.

Forced marriage is the beginning of the suffering, a wife will be repeatedly raped, assaulted and suffer a lifetime of abuse
Crown Prosecution Service west London sector director Nazir Afzal

She was asked what she thought of the two men and she said: "The one in the suit isn't bad," not thinking this was to be her future husband.

When Farida refused to marry him, her family threatened to send her back home as a prostitute.

"I stayed in the marriage because I had nowhere to go.

"I did try to kill myself with paracetamol, but it just made me sick.

"My husband, who was older than my father, had a virgin - so he was happy."

Nazir Afzal, the director of the Crown Prosecution Service west London sector, says prevention is more important than prosecuting.

Forced Marriage Unit poster
The government is promoting awareness of forced marriages

"Forced marriage is the beginning of the suffering; a wife will be repeatedly raped, assaulted and suffer a lifetime of abuse," he stresses.

"She is likely to try and commit suicide.

"Sometimes it even ends in murder.

"We want to get involved where there is a potential victim. Then we can intervene and prevent it in the first place."

Mr Afzal is one of the most senior Muslim lawyers in the country.

He dismisses accusations that the media hypes this issue and uses it as another weapon against the Muslim community.

"There is nothing wrong with arranged marriages... what we are talking about is criminal acts," he insists.

"It is about ensuring that we bring justice to those who hide under some kind of Islamic foundation for this... there is no cultural foundation for this."

Many believe the custom holds back progress in these communities as spouses are often under age and uneducated.

So changing the practice can only bring benefits.




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Victims of forced marriage tell their story



SEE ALSO:
Forced marriage ban lacks support
12 Mar 06 |  UK Politics


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