Britain Debates Outlawing Forced Marriage

Britain may soon begin to prosecute parents who force their children into marriage by making it a specific criminal offense. The practice largely affects South Asian immigrants, where it’s a divisive cultural issue.

Some Britain-Born Pakistani Women Forcibly Married

(WOMENSENEWS)–Human rights activists say that in 2002 alone, 250 British girls of Pakistani descent were brought to Pakistan by their parents and forcibly married off to relatives, the Christian Science Monitor reports.The majority of these marriages involve Pakistani teen-agers with British citizenship, but girls are also being brought from Norway, the Netherlands and Ireland to Pakistan, where forced marriages are rarely challenged.The Monitor cited the example of Neelum Aziz. When the British resident visited Kashmir–a disputed territory between Pakistan and India–for the first time last year, she was told an arrangement had been made for her to be married.She told the Monitor that her father took away her British passport, money, and other belongings and locked her up. “I screamed and shouted and kept on crying,” Aziz was quoted as saying. “My tears dried up, but my family elders did not listen to me and married me to a cousin of mine without my consent.”Although the custom of forced-marriage is not new, activists say it may be on the rise.”We are witnessing an extremist return to Islam, especially among Pakistanis living abroad,” Zia Awan, head of Madadgaar, a nongovernmental organization providing legal aid and crisis assistance to women in Karachi, Pakistan said. “They perceive the changing policies of the West to combat terrorism as a direct hostility toward Muslims living in the West, and we believe that the rise in forced marriages is linked to the changing attitudes.”However, others say forced marriage is a cultural phenomenon, not a religious one.”Islam is not a religion of extremism or coercion,” Anis Ahmed, professor of comparative religion at the Institute of Policy Studies in Islamabad, said.