When in power, Tories to ban forced marriages in Britain

By Dipankar De Sarkar, IANS

London : A Conservative government will ban forced marriages, a controversial practice among many ethnic Indians and Pakistanis living in Britain, the party announced Thursday.

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David Cameron, the leader of the party that is Britain’s largest in opposition and currently leading the ruling Labour party in opinion polls, believes the 300 or so forced marriages reported annually in Britain are just the “tip of the iceberg”.

The real figure, he believes, could be in thousands.

“Forced marriages are the practice where girls – some as young as 11 – are bullied, psychologically pressured, assaulted, sometimes kidnapped and taken abroad, and forced to marry someone they don’t want to.

“It seems utterly bizarre, and frankly unacceptable, that this goes on in Britain – but it does,” he was to tell a conference in the city of Bradford, which has a large population of ethnic Pakistanis.

Copies of his speech at the meeting with victims of forced marriages were made available to the press beforehand.

“These (arranged marriages) involve children putting their trust in parents to find them a partner – in many cases these marriages are long, successful and happy,” he was to say, accompanied by the party’s ethnic Pakistani spokeswoman for social cohesion Lady Sayeeda Warsi.

“If the current legislation doesn’t work in ending forced marriages, the Conservative party would consider making them a criminal offence,” he was to say, making it clear that forced marriages had nothing to do with arranged marriages.

The British government has cracked down increasingly hard on the practice of forced marriages, where young Asians – mostly women – are forced to marry a partner in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Punjab against their wishes.

The current Forced Marriages Act allows victims to take action only under civil, not criminal, law.

Cameron will also propose increasing the minimum age for any spouse coming to Britain and their British partner to 21 and making it compulsory for every spouse coming to Britain to have knowledge of basic English.