United Kingdom: Police stop woman's forced marriage

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Lancashire Telegraph
A young woman has been saved from a forced marriage after police used new legal powers to prevent her father from taking her to Pakistan.
It is the first time Lancashire Police have applied for a Forced Marriage Protection Order - and only the second time the powers have been used in the country. The orders, which were added to the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007 in November 2008, mean that those responsible for trying to force another person into marriage must change their behaviour or risk going to prison.
Officers were contacted by the 22-year-old East Lancashire woman after she learned her father was planning to make her travel to Pakistan this month to marry a man she had been betrothed to several years ago.

Sgt John Rigby, of Eastern division's community cohesion team, which covers Blackburn, Hyndburn and Ribble Valley, said: "She had been put into the engagement against her wishes and quite recently the subject had been raised again and it was still not what she wanted. “She had the full backing of her immediate family and had heard about the work we had been doing through our seminars and conferences with Asian women's groups in the community."

The woman's situation escalated within a matter of days and police took the decision to apply for an order to safeguard her position in the country. The matter was taken before a judge at Blackburn County Court, where her father was made to forfeit his passport and was prohibited from taking his daughter abroad. If he breaks the terms of the order he will be arrested immediately.

Sgt Rigby added: "Luckily it was at a point where we could look at a preventative and proactive approach without her having to give statements or look at criminal proceedings. "This is our first order but we expect to see a gradual build up of requests to implement the legislation.”

Forced marriages are very different from arranged marriages, which take place with both parties' consent. Anjum Anwar, chair of Woman's Voice and cohesion worker at Blackburn Cathedral, said: "It is very important that we tackle forced marriages, but it is equally important that we don't make the assumption that the 40,000 Asians living in Blackburn are practising this. “We have made good progress over the last 20 years to fight the problem of forced marriage. It puts girls in terrible danger. These orders will act as a safety net."

Coun Salim Mulla, vice chair of the Lancashire Council of Mosques, backed the action's taken by police. He said: "Forced marriage is not accepted within Islam. I think it is brave of the police to intervene and if it means that these powers must be used in order to stop a forced marriage then I fully support what they have done."

Home Office statistics show that 85 per cent of victims of forced marriages are women, most are aged 15-24, 90 per cent are Muslim and 90 per cent are of Pakistani or Bangladeshi heritage. The Government’s Forced Marriage Unit receives about 5,000 calls for advice annually.

11 February 2009

By Sally Henfield

Source: Lancashire Telegraph