The issue of forced marriage affects all British religious minorities, according to a former President of the Family Division.
Baroness Butler-Sloss, now a member of House of Lords who chairs the Forced Marriage Commission, made the claim in a speech to the first ever national conference on the subject in the UK.
The peer said:
“We have discovered that it is not exclusively a Muslim issue.”
“It is an issue that affects other minority communities for instance Sikhs, Hindus, Orthodox Jews and indeed any group that values the tight-knit community of which it is part and is very concerned that members of that community should not marry outside the community.”
Jasvinder Sanghera, the founder of marriage campaign charity Karma Nirvana said there were not enough leaders from the Muslim, Indian or Sikh communities speaking out on forced marriage.
Being a Sikh survivor of forced marriage, she added that it was “not helpful” to focus “disproportionately” on the Muslim community.
Forced marriage occurs when the bride, groom or both are pressured into a wedding against their will. Even though the issue affects both men and women, it is young women who are the most at risk.
The pressure can come in the form of physical threats, emotional blackmail or trickery and usually comes from the families.
The national conference on forced marriage was held in Derby, hosted by the Office of the Derbyshire Police and Crime Commissioner and Karma Nirvana.
Prior to the event, Sanghera said she was delighted to have the chance to talk about the criminalisation of forced marriage.
“The change in the legislation which will make forced marriage a specific offence is the result of a 10 year campaign, which has now delivered necessary and very welcome change.”
There is of course a difference between an arranged marriage, between two consenting adults who are legally able to marry and a forced marriage where one party may not in our law, even have legal capacity to marry (perhaps being a child) and or does not wish to marry.
An arranged marriage on the other hand will take place only with the consent of both bride and groom and is common amongst members of the same religious communities mentioned by Baroness Butler-Sloss. Proponents of arranged marriage take the view that such marriages are more likely to last because the couple have similar values and beliefs and are committed not only to themselves but the ideal of such a marriage and see nothing at all wrong with it. They raise their own children similarly. Within their own life style, (which is often very different to that we are accustomed to in the west) and most importantly, they see themselves as completely free to exercise their choice to accept or reject the would-be suitor.
I think it is important to differentiate between the two.