Joan Smith's Notebook: Forced marriage: the shocking truth can be ignored no longer

The treatment of some women from ethnic minorities is a disgrace. Also: thoughts on New Look and sexism

Share
Related Topics

Astonishingly, it is not a criminal offence in this country to force someone to get married. We know that families use threats, emotional blackmail and pressure from religious leaders, but they're not breaking the law unless they resort to violence. That seems set to change, with an announcement expected today that ministers intend to make forced marriage a crime.

The Government's Forced Marriage Unit dealt with 1,468 cases last year. Women's organisations report that "scores" of women and girls contact them every week, saying they fear they'll be beaten or killed if they resist. Karma Nirvana, the organisation set up to help victims by Jasvinder Sanghera after she ran away from a forced marriage, gets 5,000 calls a year to its helpline.

I don't think we should look away from what forced marriage involves. Most of the victims are women – 78 per cent, according to the Forced Marriage Unit – and it exposes them to repeated rape by men they haven't chosen and quite possibly despise. It's common for girls to be married to much older men or relatives, but what's beginning to emerge is a scandal about the targeting of the most vulnerable people in our society. Government statistics show that 56 of last year's cases involved victims with learning disabilities, while another 10 identified themselves as gay or lesbian.

The Labour government acknowledged that forced marriage was a problem but introduced "forced marriage orders" in the civil courts instead of criminalising it. Historically, there's been a reluctance to "stigmatise" the communities where the practice takes place, and a tendency to listen to "community leaders" who are usually male, conservative and elderly. As Labour found to its cost in the Bradford West by-election, such people aren't representative, and that's especially true on matters to do with gender.

There are now many organisations representing black and ethnic minority women, from the long-established Southall Black Sisters to Karma Nirvana and Imkaan. Imkaan recently produced a shocking report on the extent of "harmful practices" – forced marriage, "honour-based" violence and female genital mutilation – in London. Its director, Marai Larasi, suggested that these weren't being properly addressed because of fears of being labelled "culturally insensitive".

Not all women's organisations agree that forced marriage should be criminalised, but Sanghera has campaigned to toughen the law. A government consultation has already suggested that breaching a forced marriage order should become a criminal offence, but David Cameron is expected to go further and announce a specific crime of forcing someone to marry.

I hope he does, but I'd also like to see a shift in thinking. "Harmful practices" affect women in ethnic minority communities, but the underlying issue is control. Politicians should condemn forced marriage as unequivocally as any other form of domestic abuse, which is what it really is.

No lion rampant, but rampant sexism

I gather some sort of international football event starts today, and fans are worried that the players may face racist chants on the terraces. So I have to congratulate the high-street retailer New Look for reminding us all about the other problem in sport, which is rampant sexism.

For only £12.99, you can be the proud owner of a "fantasy football" T-shirt which shows a woman with a football between her splayed legs. She's blowing a whistle and wearing a black-and-white striped shirt, though I've never seen a real-life referee with quite that much cleavage.

I wonder why New Look thinks this kind of thing is amusing. Professional football is a male domain in this country, but lots of girls and women play the game as well. They might think twice in future about buying clothes from a company which appears to believe a woman's role on the pitch is as the butt of sniggering sexist jokes.

www.politicalblonde.com; twitter.com/@polblonde

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Services Assistant - Travel

£15500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Electricians - Fixed Wire Testing

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a result of significant cont...

Recruitment Genius: Experienced Mechanic

£17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Auto centre is based in We...

Recruitment Genius: Vehicle Technician

£20000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This long established dealer gr...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: Greek Yes voters were so shy they didn’t even turn up to the polling stations

John Rentoul
epa04832814 Supporters of the 'No' campaign wave flags and react after the first results of the referendum at Syntagma Square, in Athens, Greece, 05 July 2015. Greek voters in the referendum were asked whether the country should accept reform proposals made by its creditors. 10367444  

Greek referendum: As Greece spirals towards disaster, a new era of extremist politics begins

Daphne Halikiopoulou
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate