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Friday, 8 February, 2002, 16:16 GMT
Blunkett defends marriage comments
Indian women shopping
David Blunkett wants marriages arranged inside Britain
Home Secretary David Blunkett has said he has "no regrets" about raising the issue of arranged marriages.

His comments follow a storm of protest from Britain's Asian communities after the home secretary suggested people should only look for arranged marriage partners inside the UK.

A Home Office spokeswoman said Mr Blunkett respected and recognised arranged marriages, but believed there were "grey areas" between arranged and forced marriages.

She denied suggestions that Mr Blunkett's call for a debate on the issue was fuelled by a desire to control immigration from South Asia.


The interference by the state in decisions like marriage is totally wrong

Sha Sood, human rights lawyer
She said his remarks were driven by his belief in "social cohesion".

Earlier, head of the Muslim Parliament, Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, accused Mr Blunkett of using "racist language" by suggesting Asian people should not find a husband or wife abroad.

Human rights lawyer Sha Sood said the home secretary was imposing his views on Asian communities and had failed to make a clear distinction between arranged and forced marriages.

Mr Blunkett has said he wants to see "a discussion" within communities which practised arranged marriage as to whether more of them could be undertaken in Britain.

He said fraudulent marriages were an increasing problem, while forced marriages abused women's rights.

'Empower our young people'

Mr Siddiqui said the vast majority of arranged marriages that took place were between members of the UK's Asian communities anyway.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today Programme: "The core problem is forced marriages.

"The way to handle it is to empower our young people and at the same time try to stamp out this evil practice, by making sure some of the parents are convicted for kidnapping, rape and child abuse."

A mass marriage in India
Arranged marriages are integral to some cultures
Mr Siddiqui said it would be discrimination to take away the right of Asians to marry whoever they chose.

Ms Sood said Mr Blunkett's comments were in contravention of human rights laws, adding: "It's superimposing views on communities that have for generations done things slightly differently.

"I mean, people marry on holiday romances abroad, people marry because of work relationships. The interference by the state in decisions like marriage is totally wrong."

Labour peer Baroness Uddin said Mr Blunkett's suggestion was "deeply offensive" to Asian communities in the UK.

'Abandoned'

Despite the widespread criticism Mr Blunkett's comments were welcomed by Ann Cryer, Labour MP for Keighley, West Yorkshire, arguing that extra protection was needed for young Asian women.

"Asian girls who are brought in as wives are frequently abandoned by their husbands and their in-laws, the people who arranged the marriage, don't want to know," she told Today.

Jagdeesh Singh of the Sikh Community Action Network said many arranged marriages involved coercion.

He said: "It is a serious issue within the Asian rank and file in this country.

"It should not be hidden behind a barrier of cultural distinction and diversity."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Sean Ley
"Many feel Blunkett is dictating terms they find unacceptable"
Human Rights and Family Lawyer Sha Sood
"It is superimposing views on communities"
See also:

08 Feb 02 | England
Anguish of forced-marriage victims
07 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Immigration shake-up unveiled
12 Feb 01 | Entertainment
Asian runaway bride story 'not racist'
07 Feb 02 | UK Politics
The politics of asylum
10 Dec 01 | UK Politics
Blair backs Blunkett on race
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