Scotland: Muslims support special laws against forced marriages

Scottish Muslims are pushing for special laws against forced marriages. A year and half ago, when it was proposed by the British government, it was shouted down by Muslims who said it would stigmatize their community

I don't really understand why you need new laws, though. Scottish and British law recognizes husband rape.

To repeat what I wrote about the discussion of special anti-forced marriage laws:

If every case of forced marriage would be treated like rape within the family. If anyone who forces a marriage on anybody else, or who takes part in such would be treated as a criminal or accessory to rape and abduction. If the partner in question would be locked up for 20-30 years. Then there would be no need for specific laws and yet everybody would understand that such a thing is illegal. (UK: Law and forced marriage)


HUSBANDS involved in forced marriages could face prosecution for rape under tough new laws being planned by leading Scottish Asians.

As many as 300 young women are believed to be coerced into marriage against their will annually in Scotland, with violence and even murder being the result in a small number of cases.

England is introducing new civil laws to ban the practice south of the border, but heads of the Islamic community in Scotland are pushing for new criminal sanctions.

As well as prosecuting husbands for rape, relatives involved in forced marriages could find themselves charged with aiding and abetting a crime.

Among those leading the campaign is Bashir Ahmad, a Nationalist MSP in Glasgow, who became aware of the extent of forced marriage while a councillor in the city.

He said: "If forced marriages were a criminal offence it would be a real deterrent and I will be bringing forward a Private Members Bill on this. Making it a civil offence might be a good first step but it may not go far enough."

Osama Saeed, chairman of the Scottish-Islamic Foundation, said forced marriages were slowly on the decline, but added: "I cannot help but feel this would be speeded along by effective legislation in the area. Last year the Forced Marriages Act brought in civil measures to deal with the issue in England. This gives the courts more powers to step in to help victims, even before an actual wedding has taken place."

But he said Westmisnter had "shied away" from creating a specific criminal offence. "This was because MPs took the view that it may stop victims coming forward to seek help if a parent would go to jail as a result. I don't see why criminality can't be an option, with it being left to the victim whether or not to press charges. I do wonder why offences such as rape have not been used to prosecute to date.

"Creating new legislation now though, to deal with the incidents of forced marriage that do exist, will send out a strong message that this violation of human rights will not be tolerated."

Forced marriages – which are different from the accepted practice of arranged marriages – are still part of life in Britain's Asian communities. In 1996, before becoming Britain's first Muslim MP, Mohammad Sarwar travelled to Pakistan to bring back two Glasgow girls, Rifat Haq, 20, and sister Nazia, 13, who had been forced into marriage by their father.

Around 300 cases of forced marriage are reported to the UK Government's Forced Marriage Unit every year although campaigners believe the true figure is much higher. More than 80% of victims of forced marriages are women, most between the ages of 15 and 24.

Last month, an English coroner concluded that 17-year-old Shafilea Ahmed had been unlawfully killed because she had resisted efforts to force her into an unwanted marriage.

The new civil legislation being introduced by Westminster will create a list of 'third parties', such as teachers, social workers, women's rights groups and local councils, who would have the authority to go to court to try to prevent families from forcing their children into marriage in Britain.

Those served with a forced marriage protection order would be required to stop the marriage and stay away from the victim. A breach of the order would be classed as contempt of court and liable to a heavy fine or up to two years in jail.

Nuzrat Raza, who runs a refuge for women fleeing forced marriages in Glasgow, said: "The legislation in Scotland is not adequate and we need something that addresses the question of forced marriages directly. We need the English legislation at the very least. "

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said it was looking at whether it should create civil legislation on forced marriage. "We will seek the views of the public, including those affected by forced marriage and the agencies providing support to them," she said.

Constant pressure and a beating

Saima doesn't know which was the worst. The constant emotional pressure from her father to travel to Pakistan to marry a man she didn't know or the beating by her younger brother, trying to intimidate her into bending to her father's will.

Saima, not her real name, was just 18 when the nagging began in her Glasgow home. But with her mother having reluctantly fled to escape her abusive father, she decided to stay behind to protect her two younger sisters.

She said. "My father would just use this heavy, heavy emotional blackmail to try to get me to agree, saying: 'It would make me so proud if you were to get married.'

"It's not like he dragged me out of the house and forced me on to a plane to Pakistan but just this constant pressure. It was hard resisting but I would rather have a hard life than an unhappy one. My mum had enough of that."

Her fathers' justification was that with three teenage daughters to look after, he needed them to be married off at a young age. His brother agreed and one night attacked Saima to try to get her to change her mind. "He beat me up," she says simply. "But I was determined not to give in because I didn't know what would happen to my sisters."

Last year, with her youngest sister now living in England with her mother she and her other sister took the decision to also flee the family home. Saima and her sister sought help at a refuge for women who have been victims or potential victims of forced marriages. They now share a flat and have cut all contact.

"I have never spoken to my dad or my brother since we left. There is no justification at all for what they wanted me to do."

Source: Scotsman (English), h/t Hodja (Danish)

See also: UK: Forced marriages a 'widespread problem', UK: Law and forced marriage

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