Posts Tagged ‘cultural stereotypes’

Forced marriage in Britain: It nearly happened to me

Last year in the UK, 1,267 people were assisted by the government’s Forced Marriage Unit. Add to this the number of people supported by specialist independent charities, as well as local police forces up and down the country, and you have a figure running well into the thousands. In Channel 4’s powerful documentary Forced Marriage Cops (going out this evening) director Anna Hall and her team follow the work of police officers in Greater Manchester as they investigate 250 cases of forced marriage over the course of 12 months.

Shaheen Hashmat, 29, escaped her family and the risk of a forced marriage aged 13

This wasn’t an easy programme for me to watch. It’s been almost 20 years since the police and local authorities helped me escape from my family because of abuse and the threat of forced marriage. So much time has passed now, and it’s more than jarring to see past experiences reflected so powerfully on camera in the lives of other women like my siblings and I. Forced Marriage Cops focuses on the stories of several women, and each one illustrates the different ways that victims can be affected by forced marriage.

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Children centre staff trained to spot signs of FGM

Children’s centre staff are being trained to spot the signs of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) amid concerns that girls of nursery age are being subjected to the practice.


Staff in two children’s centres in Islington in London have undertaken training to help them recognise children who might be at risk of FGM, and to be able to reach out to parents in practising communities.

The training, arranged by Manor Gardens, a local charity, forms part of a wider council programme aimed at protecting girls from the practice. If successful, Islington Council plans to roll out training to all 16 of its children’s centres.

The training comes as the NSPCC raises concerns that girls are being subjected to FGM at a younger age because parents are becoming wise to the fact that teachers are now more aware of the issue.


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Playwrights explore trauma and psychological damage of FGM

The poster is stamped with the statement that 137,000 women in the UK are living with the consequences of genital mutilation. But for the team behind the play Little Stitches, opening at a London theatre on Friday it is the individual stories behind the statistic that really matter.

Kenya rally against FGM 2007


The four writers of the play, opening at Theatre503, in Battersea, spent months talking to those affected by FGM, or female genital mutilation, as well as to campaigners, doctors and teachers. Each of the four – Karis Halsall, Raul Quiros Molina, Bahar Brunton and Isley Lynn – used verbatim interviews and accounts to write a piece tackling the issue, and, as the director, Alex Crampton, said, to give FGM a “living breathing presence that makes it hard to ignore”.

The decision to tackle the issue came from Melissa Dean, the founder of BAREtruth theatre company which is staging the play. She said theatre was a powerful vehicle that could break through the taboos and secrecy surrounding FGM and bring real-life stories to an audience who might otherwise be at some distance from the issue.


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Police target secret network of travel agents, doctors and taxi drivers who help female genital mutilation continue in Britain

Police are targeting a secret network of travel agents, money lenders, doctors and taxi drivers who help female genital mutilation happen in Britain, it emerged today.

Officers believe the network is allowing the brutal practice to continue under the radar as thousands of girls in the UK remain at risk.  The crime ring uses doctors willing to prescribe pain relief to victims, travel agents who arrange flights to countries where the cutting takes place and money lenders to provide finance for families.

Pain: A nine-year-old girl winces in pain after undergoing female genital mutilation (file image)Pain: A nine-year-old girl winces in pain after undergoing female genital mutilation (file image)

FGM has been illegal in Britain since 1985 but there has never been a successful prosecution. However, the country’s first trial for female genital mutilation is expected to take place within weeks, following a concerted campaign to bring FGM to an end. Experts have warned though that prosecutions are being hampered because doctors, teachers and social workers are systematically failing to report cases of genital mutilation to the police.


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Three expat sisters refuse to board plane to avoid forced marriage

The girls told the police they were born and lived in the UAE and were scared that their newly married father would force them to marry in Mauritania. 

Three young Mauritanian sisters who refused to travel to their home country because they feared being forced into marriage, were put up in the Dubai Women and Children’s Foundation after the General Department of Human Rights intervened.

The flight on which the girls were to travel on Tuesday was delayed as they refused to board the plane, but the situation was later resolved after the girls agreed that they would be accompanied by their estranged mother to their home country to live. Dr Mohammed Al Murr of the General Department of Human Rights said that an employee of the Immigration Department at the Dubai Police informed the Women and Children’s Protection Department of the Dubai Police about the three girls, aged 21, 15, and 12, who were allegedly being forced to travel back home to stay with other family members there.

The three girls told the police they were born in the UAE and spent their life here and were scared that their father would force them to marry in Mauritania. Their father, who has been in the UAE for 30 years, tried to send the girls back to their home country as he had recently married a new woman in Dubai, and said he couldn’t cope looking after her children as well as his own. Upon refusing to board the plane, the girls said they did not know their father’s family well enough and were scared to go and live with them.

The girls’ mother, who the father had divorced some years back, was living in Tanzania where she too married another man, but later divorced him.

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Forget cultural practices – forced marriage is abhorrent

In 2012, the UK’s Forced Marriage Unit dealt with 1,485 cases. 13 percent of those involved victims under 15 years old; 22 percent involved victims aged 16-17.

Under a section of the Antisocial Behaviour Crime and Policing Bill, now going through the House of Lords, parents who “coerce, pressure or abuse” their children into marriage could face prison sentences.   In November, The Times reported that two anthropologists had warned the Home Office that the law is doomed to fail women, because brides who send their relatives to jail will be rejected by their South Asian families. Their report criticised the new law for demonising other cultures.


The authors, Roger Ballard, Director of the Centre for Applied South Asian Studies, based in Stalybridge, near Manchester, and Fauzia Shariff, a School of African and Oriental Studies academic, called supporters of the law “ill-informed pedlars of ‘improvement'”. Their report said the new law would be widely viewed as an effort to undermine minorities’ cultural traditions, in favour of “superior” Euro-American practices.  The authors — while not defending forced marriage (which, in a chillingly Orwellian manner, they refer to as “myopically arranged marriages” or “ill-judged familial initiatives”) clearly believe criminalisation will do more harm than good, and instead recommend policy initiatives “supporting efforts to resolve intra-familial contradictions on the basis of ‘traditional’ processes of renegotiation” – whatever they might be.

We can all be sensitive to the idea that other cultures have ways of living that may be as valuable as the “Euro-American” model — a happily and consensually-arranged marriage may be at least as good an environment for children as a household of multiple divorces. But we should profoundly object to the moral relativism implied in the attack on the Bill. Forced marriage reflects a worldview in which women cannot act individually and cannot have agency over their sexual behaviour without bringing shame, and thus must be forcibly prevented from being autonomous. It reflects a culture where women do not have the freedoms accorded to men.

In a Times column criticising Ballard and Shariff, David Aaronovitch wrote: “We criminalise forced marriage because, as a society, we believe it is wrong and we stand on the side of the victim.” As a young woman in 21st-century Britain, I look back through history in horror at a time when I might have been bundled off to marry someone, perhaps much older than me, against my will, whom I did not love. Luckily for me that bleak prospect is a thing of the past.

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Cultural fears hinder war on ‘honour’ killing, says film-maker

Political correctness is hampering the fight against so-called honour-based violence in Britain, a campaigner has warned.

Deeyah Khan, whose documentary about the victim of an “honour” killing from London recently won an Emmy, called for the police to set up a specialist unit to deal with the problem.

The UK-based film-maker, whose parents are from Pakistan and Afghanistan, said there were police departments dealing with witchcraft and gang violence, but none dedicated to investigating “honour” violence.

Speaking at an international conference on women’s rights in London, Ms Khan compared it with organised crime. She said it needed specialist policing because there were multiple perpetrators.

“The victims have to be protected in a certain way. They are at risk from their entire communities,” she said. “There are aunties and cab drivers and even people in dole offices looking out for the women. There are bounty hunters and hitmen who don’t even take money to kill them, they do it because they see it as a necessity.”

Victim: Banaz Mahmod was killed by her family


Ms Khan’s film Banaz: A Love Story documented the case of Banaz Mahmod, an Iraqi Kurd from Mitcham who was murdered by her family in 2006, and her body buried in a suitcase in Handsworth, Birmingham. The film won an Emmy for best international documentary in October. She said: “It is awful that these crimes happen anywhere, but the fact it is happening here in the UK is unacceptable.” She added that people were afraid to get involved because of political correctness and a sense that “we don’t want to step on the toes of communities”.

She said: “But if the outcome is our young people die or suffer,  what good is that kind of politeness? Our silence allows this to happen.”

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Afghan landmark law failing to protect women: UN

Kabul — The UN mission in Afghanistan on Sunday criticised authorities for poor implementation of a landmark law to protect women, 12 years after the repressive Taliban regime was ousted from power.

Donor nations, led by the US, point to the Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW) law as a prized symbol of the success of the international effort in Afghanistan since 2001. But a report released by the UN said that prosecutions and convictions remained low under the 2009 law, which criminalises child marriage, forced marriage, forced self-immolation, rape and other violence against women.

“Implementation has been slow and uneven, with police still reluctant to enforce the legal prohibition against violence,” Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said. “Afghan authorities need to do much more to build on the gains made so far in protecting women and girls.”

The report comes amid fears that as the NATO-led military mission prepares to withdraw by the end of next year, religious conservatives are seeking to increase their influence and undermine advances in women’s rights. The report said that of about 1,670 registered incidents of violence against women in 16 provinces, only 109 cases — seven percent — went through a judicial process using the EVAW law.

Many cases were resolved through informal mediation, which often fails to protect women from further violence, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said.

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Watch: Islamic scholars say forced marriage claims ‘exaggerated’

Last week, Yle reported claims that some immigrant families in Western Finland were sending their underage daughters abroad for forced marriages. Islamic scholars say such cases are not about religion and girls should have more information about their rights.


Attendees at the weekend Islam Expo in Helsinki were clear about Islam forbidding forced marriages. None were aware of a single case in Finland. Many suspected reports to be merely rumours.

Faduma Mohammud of Helsinki speculated girls may have been sent abroad after straying from treligious strictures and misbehaving:

According to Islamic scholars – not even bad behaviour would justify a forced marriage.

Imam Annas Hajjar says forced marriages are not a part of Islam at all – when marrying both parties have to answer “yes”.


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Forced marriage and the “lawfully wedded” wife

Today, on the 32nd International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill reaches the Committee stage of the House of Lords. The Bill introduces a raft of measures covering matters as diverse as dangerous dogs, extradition proceedings, firearms and, tucked away in Part 10, forced marriage. Forced marriage is to be criminalised. “Was it not already?”, you may ask. The current law Forced marriage is where one or both parties to a marriage lack consent and duress is a factor. Forcing an individual to marry is a breach of Article 12 of the European Convention on Human Rights: the right to marry and found a family (a right which includes the requirement that parties to the marriage have given full consent). It has been the subject of legislation since the introduction of the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007, which made a civil remedy available to victims.

This took the form of a Forced Marriage Protection Order (FMPO). Under the Act, victims of forced marriage and those facing forced marriage are able to apply for a FMPO. Relevant third parties, such as local authorities, are also able to apply for FMPOs and third parties not designated “relevant” can apply for the order with the permission of the court. A power of arrest can also be attached and the breach of a FMPO is treated as contempt of court. A FMPO made under this legislation is wide reaching and can apply to conduct both inside and outside England and Wales. How this will change The Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill will criminalise the breach of these civil orders, as well as creating the specific offence of forcing someone to marry. Under the new legislation, breach of a FMPO will now carry a maximum penalty of 5 years imprisonment.

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