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The BBC's Geeta Guru Murthy
"The government has not gone far enough in protecting these women"
 real 28k

Thursday, 29 June, 2000, 12:38 GMT 13:38 UK
Forcing marriage could become illegal
Asian ladies
Hundreds of Britons suffer misery in forced marriages
Parents who force their daughters to marry against their will could be charged with a criminal offence, a Home Office minister has said.

Speaking at the launch of a Home Office report into forced marriages, Mike O'Brien said a wide-ranging review of sexual offences would examine the issue of women abducted by parents intending to force them to marry.

At least 1,000 British Asian women are thought to face being made to marry someone chosen by their parents each year.

The report recommended that forced marriages be treated like domestic violence or child abuse and called for police to do more to stop them.

Although existing laws were strong enough to tackle the problem, police must do more to put them into practice, the report said.


The agencies should give protection, not mediation

Hannana Siddiqui

The report, produced by a working party chaired by Labour peers Baroness Uddin and Lord Ahmed, stopped short of making detailed proposals to tackle the problem.

Changing attitudes

Baroness Uddin said a change of attitude both in communities and bodies such as the police in trying to tackle the problem was already taking place.

"I don't believe we have to wait forever for the outcome of this practice being eradicated," she said.

The report concluded that the issue could not be properly addressed until the scale of the practice was assessed.

Mr O'Brien said the government would ensure that proper records were kept in future.

Home Office officials had started working with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on a joint action plan, he said.

Protests

Women with families from Pakistan, Bangladesh and India are most likely to be affected, but the practice is also found among those with African and Middle Eastern roots.

While welcoming the report, campaigners expressed anger at a recommendation that social workers could act as mediators between women and their estranged families.

Hannana Siddiqui, of Southall Black Sisters, said the plans could force more vulnerable women back into abusive situations.

"The agencies should give protection not mediation," said Ms Siddiqui, who resigned from the working group last month in protest.

"Women are already under huge pressure from their communities, often with elders or community leaders acting as mediators.

"It will put more pressure on them to go back, often in to an abusive situation."

Members of her group held a protest outside the Home Office during the launch.

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See also:

05 Aug 99 | UK Politics
Forced marriage clampdown welcomed
26 May 99 | UK
The arrangement
16 Aug 99 | UK
Forced into wedlock
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