Saturday, 15 October 2016

The Crisis of Forced Marriage

by Lily Godkin

Rajani was only five when she, with her two older aunts Radha and Gora, aged 15 and 13, were handed by their father and grandfather to the families of their future husbands, traded as livestock, because a group of adult men saw fit to arrange their futures before they even hit puberty, wedding illegally without their consent. They were handed over to men over ten years their elders to whom they were strangers. 

These young children were thrown into a void of the unknown, for what gain? Respect towards your family from other families? The protection resulting from being associated with another family perhaps marginally more wealthy or powerful? Because the way I see it there is nothing more dishonourable - and the two men committing these actions are the kind of people our world needs protection from.

This took place in the state of Rajasthan. However it is not just in distant lands that almost seem intangible that these horrifying events occur. In England and Wales alone, approximately 1,200 potential cases of forced marriage are being discovered each year; young teenage girls are being shipped to South Asia in order to marry someone of their family’s choice without their consent. This often cuts their education short and leaves them uneducated, trapped in a relationship that often leads to isolation and both physical and sexual abuse.

Services in the UK are ill prepared to deal with these examples of misconduct and, sometimes frightened of causing cultural offence, of being seen as in some way racist, are slow to act. However, I think such authorities need to stop treading on eggshells and deal with this as a safeguarding issue, showing awareness of the significant difference between arranged marriage and forced marriage, 

Arranged marriage is a type of union whereby the bride and groom are selected by their families rather than by each other, a tradition relished by many Asian religions. Forced marriage, however, is a marriage in which one or both of the parties is married without his or her consent, or against his or her will. No religion advocates this.

I have read multiple accounts of teachers in secondary schools who were aware of Muslim girls being taken out of school by parents never to return, but who later admitted with regret that they did not act as they did not themselves wish to come across as offensive towards religious traditions. Simply asking a young girl whether this was what she wanted could have saved a life - perhaps not in the sense of avoiding death, but certainly of avoiding a life of isolation, restriction and powerlessness. In many cases, these women are leaving a highly economically developed country, where women have power and opportunities to be great, to be heard, to be successful and independent for a life where none of these things is possible, trapped with a man that they do not love. 

Too often we stay silent; we let it be because it doesn’t directly harm us, because it is not our religion, we shouldn’t get involved. We should heed the words of the German theologian, Martin Niemoller, who, writing in Nazi Germany in the early 1930s, reminded us:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

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