Married without Consent

By Bhatti, Junaid Abbas | Islamic Horizons, March/April 2009 | Go to article overview

Married without Consent


Bhatti, Junaid Abbas, Islamic Horizons


New British law seeks to help those being forced to marry without their consent.

Dr. Humayra Abedin, a Bangladeshi physician working in Britain since 2002, managed to free herself from the control of her parents, who were allegedly forcing her to marry against her will. The 33-year old physician claimed that she had been duped into visiting her parents in Bangladesh, who were concerned that she wanted to marry a Hindu man, although Muslim women are not allowed to marry non-Muslims. Abedin's friends in Britain obtained her freedom through the Bangladeshi court with the help of the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act (FMA) ("The Independent," 7 Dec. 2008).

Abedin's was among the first cases conducted under the FMA, which was enacted in Britain on 25 Nov. 2008. This law allows judges to issue protection orders to prevent forced marriages and help rescue those who have already been married off. Those convicted of forcing people into marriage can be jailed for up to two years. The law protects all British residents, allows individuals and the police to apply for a Forced Marriage Protection Order so that the person's family cannot seize his/her passport or intimidate them into traveling abroad, and could force families to reveal a victim's whereabouts to the police. On 27 Nov. 2008, Britain raised the minimum age at which foreigners can come to Britain on a marriage visa from 18 to 21.

Hundreds of young British men and women are thought to be forced into marriages every year. In the first nine months of 2008, 1,308 concerned callers contacted the government's Forced Marriage Unit, fearing that they or someone close to them might be forced into marriage. The unit helped 388 of them direcdy, nearly twice as many as in 2007. Most of these British citizens come from South Asia; much smaller numbers come from Somalia, Nigeria, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere.

British justice minister Bridget Prentice told "The Independent": "[The FMA] is very significant and demonstrates quite clearly that the Act will make a real difference to the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in our society. I expect the Act to send a clear message that forced marriage is a fundamental abuse of human rights and will not be tolerated. Forced marriage, like other forms of domestic violence, is underreported, so we do not know the full extent of the problem" (7 Dec. 2008).

Kelly Kaur (founder and head, Throughcare Housing and Support [THS]; www.throughcare.com), who has worked with victims of domestic violence and forced marriage for more than a decade, is confident that "the new legislation is a great leap forward in tackling the issues that we deal with every day. Hopefully, it will now become easier to protect vulnerable individuals from the emotional and physical abuse that goes hand-in-hand with forced marriages."

Muslim organizations, however, have not championed this cause, and the British Muslim community and Muslim parliamentarians have remained silent. The politicians, who rely on the Pakistani/Bengali voting blocs, ostensibly want to avoid any controversy. The real pressure for introducing stronger legislation came from THS and other nonprofits, many of which are run by women who have escaped forced marriages, domestic violence, or other threats based on cultural "honor" issues. Before the FMA was enacted, forced marriage was considered a civil matter and victims could apply for an annulment and seek damages from the people who coerced them. …

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