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 Respect Arranged Marriage, STOP Forced Marriage.
Forced marriages have become and epidemic in society today, but are so hidden that not many people know of this social dilemma.  It has rapidly spread into both the Western and the non-Western worlds causing many victims requiring urgent help.  Save Your Rights (SYR) is a new organisation aiming to aid people undergoing forced marriages.  Perhaps one of the greatest ways to helping the victims is by educating those who allow or promote such an appalling act.  Over the years, forced marriages have been acknowledged as an issue that needs to be addressed with the seriousness as any other crime committed.  The Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) works in conjunction with the Home Office (HO).  They stated that they ‘see around 400 cases a year’.  SYR are aware that help is already out there for people suffering from this abuse, however they feel that more needs to be done.  A recent study carried out by Dr. Nazia Khanum (2008) found that these figures could be as high as 3000-4000 cases per year.  This shows that forced marriages are much more hidden than appreciated, thus SYR aim to bring the awareness and educate people about this corrupted form of marriage.

New laws were proposed in November 2008 to protect the victims of forced marriages and prevent its occurrence.  These laws were introduced in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and were the first to specifically target the problem. A victim, friend or the police can apply for a Forced Marriage Protection Order (a court-issued injunction) resulting in forbidding families from actions such as taking victims abroad for marriage, seizing their passports or intimidating them. It would also force family members to expose a person's location.  This is thought to act as the most powerful tool protecting people from a forced marriage and those who are already victims. Penalties for breaching an order include up to two years' imprisonment.

The new legislation has been welcomed by representatives of the Asian community, such as the director of the Ashiana Network.  However, the Conservative party suggest that this is not enough to help people in forced marriages and the practice should be made illegal.  Many people will not be willing to take their parents or family members to court, especially when the sentence is as long as two years.  A recent case of Dr. Humayra Abedin is an example of this.  She was taken to Bangladesh, after being told her mother was very ill.  For four months she suffered abuse until help approached her.  But she says she forgives her parents and requested the courts not to put her parents in trouble. 

SYR at the moment is only working in the UK and Bangladesh, however intend on growing and work for Africa and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries, which include Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.  These countries seem to have some of the highest levels of forced marriages. SYR seek to form a Global Forced Marriage Unit as this would enable greater help to a number of sufferers.  The plans are mainly based on spreading the message of forced marriages as this tactic would allow people to realise the presence of this concealed, yet rapidly growing phenomenon.  This would then facilitate a greater help to those unfortunate people enduring this terrifying and painful experience.

Many people find it difficult to distinguish between Arranged Marriages and Forced Marriages.  An arranged marriage is usually arranged by people other than those who are getting married.  It should only take place if agreed upon by both parties, including the individuals getting married (Uddin and Ahmed 2000, Psychologists).  A forced marriage is where the persons getting married are not in agreement to the chosen partner.  The Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) defined forced marriage as a marriage which takes place against a person’s will and through pressure, be it emotional or physical.  Arranged marriages can easily turn into a forced marriage.  If one of the persons getting married changes their mind, it can be seen as an ‘offense’ or ‘shameful’ to the family in some cases.  Thus, the abuse will begin.  

85% of females are affected by forced marriages and 15% of the cases are males. The most common victims are between the ages of 15 and 24.  However, some can be younger and others ask for help many years after being forced into a marriage.  Cases from Pakistan (65%), Bangladesh (25%) and India are most reported to the FMU but victims have also been reported in Cyprus, Jordan, Mauritius, Sri Lanka, Somalia, Mali, Norway, Bosnia, and Hong Kong.  This shows that forced marriages are not only an issue of the Muslim community.  Many people have shifted the blame onto Islam as the causation of forced marriages.  Many Ahadith and Qur’anic quotes have been misused by some Muslims, but this is not a fault of the religion.  Some Ahadith used wrongly are those such as, “The Prophet Muhammad said, "may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him: Your Heaven lies under the feet of your mother"” [Ahmad, Nasai] and, “A person once asked Prophet Muhammad, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, "What is the right of the parent's over their children?" He answered: "They are your heaven and hell."” [Ibn Majah].

These quotes show the importance of obeying parents.  Other quotes extracted from the Holy Qur’an are in support of these.  Our duties to the parents always occur next to the command reminding us of fulfilling our duties to Allah (SWT). Some examples of these quotes are, "Show gratitude to Me and to your parents. To Me is your return." [Luqman 31:14], "Join not anything with Him. Be good to your parents." [Al-An'am 6:151] and, "Your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him and that you be kind to parents. [Al-Israa 17:23-24].  This shows the value of parents in Islam.  They tend to be mentioned after Allah (SWT), giving them great authority and respect.  Some parents may feel that they can use this to get their children to do everything they ask.  Others may feel it is against their religion to disobey their parents.  However, this is not the case.  Islam prohibits any action that goes against the Shari’ah (laws) set by Allah.  This includes actions of forced marriages. 

In support of this, the following quote taken from the Qur’an may be presented, “O ye who believe! Ye are forbidden to inherit women against their will.” [4:19]. Also many Ahadith such as, “A virgin came to the Prophet (peace be upon him) and mentioned that her father had married her against her will, so the Prophet (peace be upon him) allowed her to exercise her choice”. [Abu-Dawud].  These show that forced marriages cannot be associated with Islam, as it is a forbidden act stated by the religion. Many people have spilled cultural practises into the religion, resulting in acts such as forced marriages and causing the blame to be shifted on religions. 

However, forced marriages take place in various communities, countries and many other religions.  One of the main reasons of forced marriages is the cultural practices different communities possess.  Often honour based violence and forced marriage are associated with one another.  Honour based violence may include psychological, emotional and physical abuse, immigration as is forced marriages.  Behaviours which bring ‘shame’ onto the family or community are what tend to trigger the violent behaviours.  Such ‘shameful’ behaviours include, refusing an arranged marriage, running away/coming home late, differences between the parents and children perspectives of certain entities, westernisation, relationships outside marriage or the approved group, losing of virginity, and so forth. 

SYR acknowledges the starting point of this widespread issue.  Miscommunication and misunderstandings between the parents and their children tend to be one of the major causes of the occurrence of a forced marriage.  Many parents seem to understand that marriage is the easiest way to save their family honour if factors of ‘misbehaviour’ are shown in the performance of their children’s actions.   This is the problem which needs to be tackled.  Family honour contributes largely to the causation of this phenomenon.   Thus, SYR aims to send this message out to people, educating them about this unsuitable behaviour.  So far, SYR have a website consisting of information for those who require help, a Facebook campaign, allowing the existence of this organisation to spread and many surveys have been carried out.  They are also working with other organisations such as the FMU and Human Welfare Society in Sylhet, Bangladesh.  In addition, SYR are anticipating the production of a short documentary on forced marriages, which hopefully will be a great success in grasping the attention of thousands of people. The widest instrument used today as a message deliverer is the media, thus they are determined to use this tool to their advantage, educating people as well as bringing the awareness of forced marriages.  SYR will have many more projects to come, allowing a constant reminder to the people of this society, and hopefully positive outcomes will commence. 

SYR at present is only helping non-emergency cases.  Any emergency cases brought to them are helped via the FMU or HO. Cases are helped by bringing them to the FMU’s awareness; however SYR have not got the expertise to help anyone directly.  The organisation is not government funded and the people at SYR are volunteers who are dedicated to make a difference.  In order to carry out projects, such as those mentioned above, SYR require further help and support from more dedicated individuals, striving to change these present situations. SYR also require funds to allow these projects to commence. 

Anyone wishing to contact (would like to become member/volunteer of) SYR may do so Call/Text: +44 (0) 7988 841228, via the website at www.saveyourrights.org or may alternatively send an email to info@saveyourrights.org This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .  For any emergency call police on 999.

Shahrina Ahmed. Assistant Project DirectorSYR
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