I begin this post with caution and care, for it is a subject that it is both sensitive and emotive in nature.
It is an issue that I am strongly against,And one that perturbs me more then others.
I am writing about Forced Marriage, and the recent law introduced (which will be come into place in 2013) criminalising forced marriage.
I think before I begin, it is important for me to specify my definition of a forced marriage which is as follows;
A coercive attempt to subjugate an individual into a marriage without consent, it can involve;
physical abuse, mental abuse, sexual abuse, emotional blackmail, torture, physical blackmail, kidnapping, rape, or simply just the mere pressure of disobeying parent/elder.
I would like to point out here, IT IS AGAINT ISLAM, FORCED MARRIAGES HAVE NO PLACE IN OUR RELIGION.
The Prophet p.b.u.h, has said, that any marriage conducted without consent, the full consent of either individual is null and void and does not exist in the eyes of the Lord. So for those who use religion to manipulate their ends, I Feel for you, cz you have it coming to you.
Why are forced marriages orchestrated? Below is my attempt in trying to rationalise their existence; in bold i have written the counter response
1) They are done with the best of interest in mind, parents know no different, they were married to who their parents chose and had no say in the matter and they have been married decades-marriage in this format is successful
does centuries of tradition really mean that its the best option? similar atrocities are FGM, marital rape etc, success is not measured by time. In this instance it is measured by happiness and mental and physical stability of wedded couple and their children. Parents are not infallible? What may seem perfect for their child in terms of marriage may work for a certain child but will not work for all. Each individual is different and that has to be respected.
2) The child is naive and too fickle, it does not understand the wisdom behind the parent’s decision and once it is older it will understand.
If the child is too naive and too fickle yet to understand, why can’t the parents just wait until he or she is old and mature enough to make that decision for her/himself? surely thats the rational answer. The reason they don’t is because they know and fear that once it reaches that age, it will spread its wings and fly. Which further supports the idea, that if this was right, it would be acceptable at a later age, the fact that isn’t means that it is never right.
3) It is stable, it is normally conducted within families, so less chance of divorce (as both girl and boy know if they divorce it will tear the family apart), because it is in the family they have a huge family support system, and it means that the daughter will be protected and the parents can rest as they know the family she is marrying into.
The fact that there is less chance of divorce is because once they are married they are essentially trapped. Due to the complex nature of the extended family system it becomes near impossible to seek divorce. Divorce would not occur between the wedded couple it would also split up all families involved, in the past it has caused feuds and even resulted in honour killings.
4) The child has reached his/her teen years, is acting out, parents can’t control it, so they threaten it with marriage, child continues to rebel, parents give up and decide marriage will make things better.
Simple Reply: Marriage is NOT the solution to a troubled child! it will cause more problems which will add to our already broken society.
It is important to note that in a majority of cases, the nature of the forced marriage is non violent. It is orchestrated purely through the power of persuasion and emotional blackmail. This is what makes it problematic, for example imagine you have a 17 year old girl who has been told who she will marry at the age of 12. She has been told she will marry her cousin and at the time she is too innocent or naive to know any different. As she grows older, the family to whom she is betrothed to start lavishing gifts and money upon her in order to subliminally demonstrate to her that she is part of their family, so that by the time she reaches the age of wedlock, which usually varies from 16,17,18 she has no choice but to go ahead with it, as it has over the years become more and more difficult to opt out. Why has it become difficult? for the following reasons,
Firstly her fiancé is a cousin,so if she breaks off, she is breaking the ties of kinship and she will cause rifts within the extended family
Secondly matters become more problematic if any of her elder or younger siblings are betrothed in that same family ( which is also common) because if this girl opts out, it will affect the relationship between the wedded sibling and the in laws.
Thirdly, because this has been building up over the years and many people are expecting a marriage, the girl is aware that if she opts out she will bring basti (dishonour) upon her parents.
Fourthly, her parents or next of kin inform her that if she disobeys, her grandfather or uncle (or any other illness prone family member,) will suffer from a stroke/heart attack/anxiety attack/ kill themselves. Is she willing to have that on her head?
Basti is a huge huge cultural concept within our community. It is something I have touched upon in a previous post, basically it is the idea that anything socially and/or culturally unacceptable brings dishonour and disrespect upon a family. It can be a result of something huge like an individual committing adultery and producing an illegitimate child or something small like a girl seen talking to a boy. It is widely accepted that women are capable of bringing more basti on the family then men. The reason behind this is because women are brought up in our community with the knowledge that their fathers respect lies on their head/shoulders. A mighty responsibility and anything they do could dismantle that respect. Women are the safekeepers of honour thus they are protected and their rights restricted. This is said to be done in the best of their interests. So let us go back to my hypothetical teenaged girl.
She has been brought up being told who she is to marry, she is told she is not capable of choosing her life partner as she is too young and fickle thus her parents will choose as this is a method that is tried and tested. A method that has stood the test of time. The alternative is for her to choose her own life partner, and that method, she is told, is destined to fail. Her marriage will not last, her husband will be free to leave and she will have no family support. So hearing all this constantly over the period of five years or more, weighing up all the factors involved (numbered above) the girl decides to just go ahead with her pre planned marriage. She is surrounded by people who have married within this same system and they seem ok, no one has done their own thing so who is she to now stand up and demand her rights? Thus the marriage proceeds. The result of which are normally of the following;
1) she gets on with the guy and they live happily ever after and she decided her parents were right so she inflicts the same system upon her children and thus we have the initiation of the vicious cycle of coercion
2) she can’t stand the guy, he is unfaithful and gets up to no good, she is told to deal with his misgivings as she is a dutiful wife, and she plunders through life at times wishing she’d just done her own thing, never considering the option of leaving for the same reasons she never disobeyed her parents in the first place
3) both husband and wife were coerced, they agree to just get on with it, maybe just maybe they agree to spend time with other people and put on a facade that they are a happy married couple. Married with completely unknown separate lives.
4)she gets on with the guy, they decide to move away so that the same cannot be inflicted upon their children. They decide that their marriage was the end of such a practice.
5)upon marriage, her husband informs her that he too was coerced into this and that he has a girlfriend and would it be ok if he took a second wife?
The results of a forced marriage are negative, because the marriage was initated in the worst possible way. Marriage is hard enough, but to someone you don’t even want to be married to makes it a million times harder. At least when you love someone you discuss and compromise and move forward together.
The example I used was of a girl who is not physically abused, but what of the women who have been abused, sexually and physically into marrying against their consent? That is worse and an absolute breach of human rights. It has lasting and catastrophic effects and I personally don’t know how parents have the heart to do it to their own children. It absolutely baffles me
This leads me to the recent law introducing the criminalisation of Forced Marriages, from the detailed explanations i have provided above. It will come as no surprise that I am fully supportive of the law. You see, this inhumane act has no place in religion and it has no place in our society. It makes sense for it to be criminalised.
What I would say, is that this law needs to go hand in hand with education, education that this is an inhumane and barbaric act. Education that it causes so many problems and it is not a solution. I worry that the £500,000 the govm have set aside is not enough, we need to educate the kids in school, the mums who attend english speaking classes or go for walks round the park, we need to educate the dads, we need to educate all citizens in schools so they become active citizens and are taught to look after and protect each other. This requires a hell of a lot of money but if this law is to be effective, this has to be done, otherwise it will cause more damage.
Those who are against the new law, have stated that there are other laws in place to protect the victim, i.e. laws against kidnap/abuse/coercion. But clearly these are not strong enough. Because forced marriage is still occurring! Clearly these people need a stronger threat. And yes i can understand why people are saying that it may deter victims because what it means essentially is that they are sending their parents to jail. and not many will do that. Despite everything a parent puts a child through, the child will very rarely testify against it. But my reply would be, at least the child has a choice now, and it knows its rights. What needs to happen on top of this is education. The child needs to be educated and empowered so it recognises what it happening and knows where to go to seek help, maybe not to take to court if it doesn’t want to, but to prevent it from getting into trouble.
People are also saying what if the parents go to jail, what will happen to other siblings. My simple but frank answer, they should have thought about it in the first place, and to be honest i think the kids are better off, cz more then likely those kids would be put through a forced marriage too. So its deterrence all round.
For now, we just have to wait and see how the government introduces this law, and what measures come with it and whether they are effective or not. As Charlotte Proudman from the Independent concludes her article on the same issue;
‘For those victims who believe that criminalisation is not important, you will not be compelled to inform the police of the wrong committed against you nor will you be forced to seek legal redress. The choice is yours – but at least you now have a choice.’