Forced marriage is becoming increasingly prevalent across Europe and is not just confined to the UK. Neither is it a problem for just one specific community or religion as many believe. This was the message given to recent European Parliament hearing on the subject of criminalising forced marriage on an EU level.
Key speaker Jasvinder Sanghera, founder of Karma Nirvana, a UK organisation dedicated to preventing and assisting the victims of forced marriage and honour crime, was adamant in her testimony that not only is such a practice not supported by the texts of her or any religion but that the practice of forced marriage amounts to nothing more than the worst form of child abuse. Forced marriage is abuse that is committed during childhood (often the girls are very young and taken out of school in order to be married) but often lasts for the rest of that person’s life. It is an abuse that violates every aspect of the woman’s being, constituting not only rape condoned by society but also the taking away the woman’s right to self-determination.
Jasvinder Singhera was herself a victim of attempted forced marriage and later disowned by her family for her refusal,
Ms Singhera advocated the criminalisation of forced marriage since current national policies (such as protection orders) are totally failing to protect those most vulnerable and are only uncovering the tip of the iceberg. She also observed that the assumption that most lawmakers make - that victims would not wish to prosecute members of their family - is often false and that many victims recognise that what is being done to them is wrong; they are simply not in a position to prevent it.
The hearing also challenged the prevailing attitude of many European host countries. The idea that forced marriages are a “cultural affair” that national authorities should not meddle in, were most wholeheartedly condemned by those activists from the communities concerned.
As I have previously blogged, I am fully in support of work done by Labour MPs in the UK to criminalise forced marriages and prosecute perpetrators in the UK. I am also fully in support of this being done on an EU level, for several reasons. Firstly because it is clearly an EU wide problem and there are striking similarities to be observed throughout all EU countries. Adopting the policy at an EU level would allow countries to collaborate to eradicate the problem and share best practices and programs that have proven to be successful such as the Heroes program in Germany and Sweden.
Legally binding EU legislation would send a message to those communities who are affected and to national authorities across Europe that forced marriage will not be tolerated. The EU has, I believe, a duty to send out such a message.
Passing such a law at an EU level would mean the problem was recognised and tackled at all levels of governance. Currently this is an issue which, for reasons of misunderstanding and discomfort, is swept under the carpet in many member states. This problem is actually getting worse in many European countries where budget cuts are threatening programmes and organisations working on the issue.
This is a situation that absolutely cannot continue and must be addressed. Europe citizens, no matter what their cultural background, are entitled have their human rights protected. This means protection from those, be they family members or communities, who seek to abuse them and collude in their forced marriage, for the sake of honour.