The Times – With this ring I thee enslave, by Camilla Cavendish<br/> When so many women are being forced into marriage, why are there not more howls of protest?
In the past year I have come across three teachers who have helped teenage pupils to escape from actual or threatened violence at home. Each seems to have been the only person the girls could confide in. Each has found the girl a refuge and tried to help her to start a new life.
But it is not easy. Even if you escape, you still have to hide. You still face the wrench of losing your family. None of these three can get council housing because they are deemed to have made themselves “intentionally homeless” by running away. Two live in fear of veangeful brothers who want revenge. Yet the social services want to “reconcile” them with their families, reinforcing the sense of guilt and shame they have at leaving. The suicide rate among young Asian women is more than three times the national average. Why is this not a mainstream campaigning issue?
The Government dropped plans to make forced marriage illegal in June, after the Muslim Council of Britain cautioned that it could be “another way to stigmatise our communities”, although it is not a practice supported by Islam or any other world religion. In July a Metropolitan Police commander reported that the decision not to make forced marriage a criminal offence had been taken by some community groups to mean that “it must be all right”.
Forcing defenceless women into marriage is not all right. It is rape, for a start. But nor is it the only problem faced by women who live closeted by male relatives and vulnerable to abuse. Government “outreach” does not extend to women who are illiterate and cannot read leaflets printed in Urdu. Some women cannot go to English language classes because their husbands, fathers, brothers will not give permission. I know of one Sure Start centre that has coaxed deprived Bangladeshi women to attend by presenting itself as a health centre. Their menfolk were reluctant to let them near a door marked “education”, but could be persuaded to let them seek health advice for their precious sons. But this kind of smart work is under the radar. Meanwhile, we deprive these women of the right to vote by introducing postal voting, so that their husbands can tick the box for them.