The British government is considering introducing legislation against expatriate parents who force their daughters to marry according to parental choice. The plan is to make forced marriage a criminal offence. This is in reaction to 2,000 cases of persons coerced into matrimony since January 2011. A majority of the cases involved girls under 21 years of age “with some under 15”. Many of the cases pertained to families coming from Pakistan and Bangladesh.
This was bound to happen. Already, girls in the UK are told to report coercion to the police. There are cases where girls are brought to Pakistan and Bangladesh and then suddenly asked to marry a cousin, whereupon, some girls approach the British embassy for help. As far as Pakistan is concerned, forced marriage is against the law and there are daily incidents of girls being forced to marry inappropriate spouses under parental fiat. Furthermore, girls daring to get married without parental permission are maltreated and sometimes killed.
In the UK in particular, and in Europe in general, Muslim communities are not integrating too well into local society and culture. While some of the identity differences must be maintained, there are certain rituals like the treatment of the woman or girl by the male head of the Muslim family, which is not permissible even in the country of origin. One well-known sociologist sums up the expat plight thus: “Common understandings of the way Muslims define their boundaries with European society focus on the areas of purity, sexuality and religion. Purity relates to food (pork, halal meat), drink (alcohol) and habits of cleanliness. Sexuality relates to control over women. In terms of religion, Muslims may view Europe as an anti-Islamic society because of its degree of secularisation and the separation of church and state. Purity and sexuality provide a sense of moral superiority, which may compensate for class inferiority.”
While Pakistanis are responsible for three per cent of the births in the UK, they account for 33 per cent of children with genetic birth defects. Lowered intellectual capacity is another devastating consequence of Muslim marriage patterns. According to research, children of consanguinous marriages (cousin marriage) can have lower IQs and social abilities may at times develop much slower in inbred babies.
The new law will only bring relief to the girls now growing up in the labour class, which forms majority of the Pakistani community living in the UK. But the need is also to firm up the laws in Pakistan aimed against maltreatment and brutalisation of girls if they refuse to marry according to the will of the parents or get married on their own to avoid being coerced into a marriage they don’t want. It should be noted that in the UK — where the Pakistanis are more in number than any other Muslim nationality — non-Muslim expatriates have integrated quite well and have, therefore, improved their economic status. Pakistan must move to correct the situation. In other words, it is also the duty of Pakistan to help the British government in overcoming problems of introversion in the Pakistani community living in the UK. This can be done by improving the laws in Pakistan relating to marital coercion, expressly banned by Islam.
In Pakistan, in fact, traditional marriages tend to completely ignore the wishes of the bride-to-be. This is a reflection of our misogynistic and deeply patriarchal society and the consequence of this is a severe stifling of choice as far as Pakistani women are concerned. This, in turn, leads to a situation where women have practically no voice and say in perhaps the most important of decisions, one that will have far-reaching effect on their lives. This attitude and mindset needs to change as well, and if that happens, it could have a positive impact on the problem of forced marriages in countries such as the UK.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 11th, 2012.
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