Forced marriage a problem for all religious minority communities in Britain

Forced marriage is not confined to Britain’s Muslim communities but exists among all minority groups, the head of a commission into the issue has said.

Baroness Butler-Sloss said there was “a great deal of pressure” on parents and elders to ensure that children married within their strongly religious communities.

The former High Court judge, who chairs the National Commission on Forced Marriage, said that there was “a thin line” between legitimate emotional pressure and coercion.

“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,” she told the UK’s first national conference on forced marriage in Derby.

Forced marriage is set to become a crime in England and Wales from next month punishable by up to seven years in prison. The change in the law follows public outrage over the treatment of young women such as Shafilea Ahmed, 17, who was murdered by her parents in front of her siblings in 2003 and had her body hidden after she drank bleach in a bid to avoid being forced into marriage. Her parents were not brought to justice until 2012.

Last year more than 1,300 people rang a special helpline set up by the Government’s Forced Marriage Unit. Around one in seven of those reporting actual or potential forced marriage were children. A quarter of callers were aged between 16-17, figures showed.

Senior police officers believe this represents the tip of the iceberg with forced marriage linked to serious honour based crime including abduction, rape, torture and disfigurement.

However, figures showed that 42.7 per cent of those contacting the helpline were of Pakistani heritage whilst 10.9 per cent were from India and 9.8 per cent from Bangladesh.

Commission member Jasvinder Sanghera, a Sikh survivor of forced marriage who founded the charity Karma Nirvana, said it was “not helpful” to focus on Muslim communities although the problem remained “disproportionately” reported among those groups.

“There are not enough community leaders – Muslim, Indian or Sikh – speaking out on this issue,” she said. Ms Sanghera said the commission, which is due to report next year after speaking with survivors of forced marriage across the UK, had noticed wide variation in the public response to victims. ”The evidence is showing inconsistencies in reporting and responses from police, social workers, schools and politically,” she said.

Some police forces and other professionals have tried and negotiate between victims and their families, often putting girls and women at risk of harm.

Prime Minister David Cameron will host a summit on female genital mutilation and forced marriage later this summer. Campaigners are seeking to mark Shafilea Ahmed’s birthday on 14 July as a national memorial day marking the deaths of the victims of honour violence.

More than 30,000 people have signed a petition urging Mr Cameron to support the proposal. The idea received the backing of Nazir Afzal, chief of the Crown Prosecution Service in the North West, who reopened the case into Shafilea’s murder.

“The idea is that when people do what they have done in this case is that they are trying to erase the girl from history. The family will never want to know her – the family don’t want to know she existed. Therefore having a memorial day sends out a message: We remember, we remember her life, we remember why she died and why she didn’t have to die,” he said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?