Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Forced marriage cases in Britain are up by 80% in 2008

A special Government unit dedicated to stopping teenagers being married off by their families dealt with 300 cases in the first half of this year, up from 168 in the same period of 2007. But the head of the Forced Marriage Unit, based at the Foreign Office, fears this could be just the tip of the iceberg as many victims are too scared to come forward and communities often close up to hide what is going on. Wayne Ives also warned that heads of families are going to extreme lengths to get their children to marry, in some instances posing as officials to kidnap runaway brides or paying people to track them down. His comments came as a new law comes into effect, which will make it easier for courts to stop ceremonies going ahead if it is feared that the bride and groom are being married against their wills. A separate law will see the minimum age at which foreigners can come to Britain to get married being increased. Despite the drive to tackle forced marriages, however, many feel it is still taboo because of fears of criticizing immigrants from Pakistan and Bangladesh, who are involved in most cases. Schools have refused to discuss so-called honor crimes in case they cause offence to ethnic minorities or religions, while MPs have been accused of failing to highlight forced marriage in case they lose Muslim votes. In a recent speech to a Capita conference, Mr Ives told delegates: "We are talking about endemic abuse of the worst kind against young men and women which is happening right here and right now." He said the mere fact that a teenage girl is seen wearing a short skirt or having a boyfriend can be enough for her relatives to decide she has betrayed the family and must be forced to marry someone they deem acceptable, while others make disabled children get married so they can have a carer in a "warped form of altruism". In total, 90% of cases dealt with in Britain involve Bangladeshi or Pakistani families, but investigators are uncovering growing numbers of forced marriages involving Iranians, Turks, Kurds and Somalis.

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