Thursday, August 5, 1999 Published at 05:54 GMT 06:54 UK
Forced marriage clampdown welcomed
Thousands of young Asians are forced into marriage every year
A government drive to prevent forced marriages among Britain's Asian community has been hailed as a "significant breakthrough" by campaigners.
The move has been welcomed by women's rights groups - who have accused the authorities of ignoring the problem for fear of offending minorities' cultural traditions.
Muslim community leaders have also backed the initiative and admitted the issue had been "swept under the carpet" for too long.
The independent working party will consult widely with the Asian community to tackle the problem - estimated to affect around 1,000 young people a year - and find ways to resolve it.
'Forced marriages are wrong'
The working party has been set up by Mike O'Brien, the Home Office minister responsible for race relations. Its first report is expected by the end of the year.
"Forced marriages are wrong and we are determined to tackle the issue," said Mr O'Brien.
In May, he met a Bradford couple who have been in hiding for over six years after allegedly receiving death threats from the wife's family following her refusal to marry a cousin in Pakistan.
The issue was highlighted when Shakeela Naz, and her son Shazad, were convicted for the murder of her daughter Rukhsana, who became pregnant after an adulterous affair.
Muslim Parliament backing
Hanana Siddiqui, co-ordinator of the Southall Black Sisters, who will sit on the working party, said the biggest challenge was changing the attitudes of social services, the police and education authorities.
She said they had ignored the problem for fear of offending minority sensibilities. "For us they are issues of child abuse and domestic violence."
Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, Leader of the Muslim Parliament, said the parliament had launched its own campaign to stop forced marriages.
He said marriages were not valid under Islamic law without the consent of both parties.
Sex within a forced marriage was rape, and parents and religious leaders who conspired to force couples to wed were guilty of aiding and abetting sex crimes, he added.
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