Despair as forced marriages stay legal in Britain
THE lives of young women might be ruined by the Government’s failure to make forced marriages illegal, a senior police officer has warned.
Commander Steve Allen of the Metropolitan Police said that a decision by ministers last month to drop proposed legislation had been greeted by some ethnic minorities as a signal that forced marriage was acceptable.
His concern about the about-turn, which was partly prompted by fears that the new law would stigmatise Muslims, is shared by a Crown Prosecution Service director and the head of Scotland Yard’s Homicide Prevention Unit. The head of a South Asian women’s charity said yesterday that girls were already suffering the consequences of the decision.
Between 2003 and 2005, 518 forced marriages were recorded in London, and in 2005 more than 140 in Bradford. Campaigners say those are merely the tip of the iceberg.
Most cases in Britain involve Muslim families, although the practice is not restricted to any particular religious or ethnic group. Most victims are aged between 16 and 20 and many suffer physical assault, death threats and false imprisonment, usually at the hands of close family members.
Suicide rates among young Asian women are more than three times the national average and about 12 women every year die as a result of so-called “honour killings”.
Last September the Home Office launched a consultation paper on creating a specific criminal offence of forcing someone into wedlock. Although the proposal was welcomed by many victims’ groups, some organisations complained that it would increase racial segregation. The Muslim Council of Britain gave a warning that such a law might become “another way to stigmatise our communities”.
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