Monday, June 30, 2008

The conspiracy to coerce British Muslim women

This article (via DK), from the Telegraph, is based on warnings from the spokesman on forced marriages for the Association of Chief Police Officers and is absolutely horrifying. It sets out the range of ways in which unfortunate women, normally of Pakistani descent, are trapped by their families, communities and the public services that should protect them into relationships that at best they do not want and at worst are incredibly abusive.

Recently the Washington Post ran an incredible article about the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's attempts to prevent British citizens essentially being abducted into marriages in Pakistan. It alerted me to the scale of a problem that I had always assumed was far rarer:

"The Forced Marriage Unit operates out of an office on the edge of Trafalgar Square in London and rescues hundreds of women every year. Many of the 4,000 calls it receives each year involve cases in the United Kingdom, but the
unit has diplomats in embassies around the world on standby for overseas rescues.


The teenage girl sat in Salimi's office, wearing a black niqab that covered everything but her sad brown eyes.

"I don't want to hide; I want to be free, open," she said in a pronounced Scottish accent. She said she usually wears jeans.

Lowering her niqab enough to reveal her long, dark hair and pretty earrings, she said she is scared of her family. Her brothers, she said, had already beaten up one of her friends because of her, and she believed they would kill her for shaming the family.

"My father would shoot me before letting me go," she said. "My parents say things are screwed up in the U.K., so they want me to marry a guy from here, who doesn't drink and smoke."

"My boyfriend is even a Muslim and from Pakistan, but they don't accept him," she continued. "I am British, but I am Pakistani, too. But why shouldn't I get to decide whom I marry?"

She looked tired, and she bent over several times complaining of stomach cramps. The pressure of recent days had been too much.

"I have left everyone, everything," she said. "I have not been a bad person to anyone. I don't know why this happened to me."

4,000 (reported) cases a year from a relatively small population is a huge issue. The threat of violence and the huge social sanctions within their community attached to resisting and going to the police must make this incredibly difficult to police and mean that many (quite possibly most) cases are not reported at all. If we assume that the estimate that there are 1.6 million Muslims in the UK is accurate, that half of those are women and the problem is underreported by half (that is almost certainly a massive underestimate of the number of unreported cases) then there is 1 case for every 100 Muslim women every year; an astonishingly high rate.

What must make things so much harder, and is so disgraceful, is that some women are being placed in this situation by doctors who breach their confidence:

"Cmdr Allen, of the Metropolitan Police, said: "GPs will tell fathers their daughter has seen them and is on the pill. That can get a girl killed."

Then, when they brave shunning and a threat of violence from their families and communities to try and escape, they then have to fear the police returning them to their tormentors:

"Shahien Taj, director of the Cardiff-based women's group The Henna Foundation, said: "Recently I had a case in Birmingham of a woman who said she can't trust the police because nine times she had run away and nine times the police returned her to her family where she got abused. Fortunately ACPO are now addressing this kind of problem openly and trying to do something about it."

And, the Job Centre using their National Insurance number and other data to help family track them across the country:

"Cmdr Allen also told The Sunday Telegraph that Job Centre workers have accessed the National Insurance details of women who flee violent husbands, tracing where they collect benefits and passing the details on to their families so they can be found and forced back to their marital home."

As if we needed more reason to distrust the argument that "if you've done nothing wrong you've got nothing to hide" with respect to big government databases.

The final result is:

"Cmdr Allen said: "We have too many areas where people don't believe this is an issue for them. But we are seeing situations across the country where victims, who are at extreme risk, are being moved to another part of the country, away from their home towns, by their families. "We also are talking here about bounty hunters and professional killers being used to track down relatives and these people are going to be killed. This is about child protection, human rights and young people having their lives destroyed and all too often being murdered because they dared to love with their heart."

I'm sorry I haven't added much to these stories but they seemed worth sharing even if I didn't have much to contribute.


James Higham said...

The Muslims prefer to call them "arranged". Interesting.

Matthew Sinclair said...

There can and should be a significant difference between arranged and forced marriages, though there are borderline cases.

Meg said...

Why in the world is it legal for the government to just hand out information from their databases to anybody who asks??

Matthew Sinclair said...

It isn't.