Fear being branded racist and of offending minorities hampers social workers' action over forced marriage


'Nisha', victim of a forced marriage. Her name has been changed to protect her identity. Pictured with her four-month-old daughter

Women and young girls at risk of being taken abroad and forced into marriage are being failed because local officials fear 'offending' minority communities, according to a Government report.

Social workers are being slow to use new court orders aimed at stopping potential victims being spirited overseas to be married without their consent, the report said.

It pointed to 'a fear of being accused of racism or not being culturally sensitive'.

Judges who rule on applications for the orders warned of a 'political correctness agenda' hampering efforts to help.

Schools were accused of failing to alert pupils to the issue, for fear of offending parents.

Children as young as nine have been taken overseas by their parents and forced to marry complete strangers. Around 70% of cases are from families originally from Pakistan and 10% of Bangladeshi origin.

At least 1300 Britons have been involved in forced marriages in the last four years. As well as very young children, cases have involved adults with mental health problems.

Last month a Muslim father who threatened to kill his wife for blocking a forced marriage in Pakistan for their daughter became the first person to be prosecuted for breach of an order.

Aurang Zeb, 43, from Blackburn, was sentenced to 200 hours community service, and placed under a community supervision order.

The Ministry of Justice study, published last week, looked at the use of Forced Marriage Protection Orders (FMPO) since they were introduced twelve months ago.

A form of court injunction, they allow courts to confiscate the passports of potential victims.

Businessman Aurang Zeb

Businessman Aurang Zeb outside Blackburn magistrates court this week

Families can be instructed to reveal where the woman was sent if she has already left the country.

The report praised police for being 'active' in bringing cases to the courts. But it pointed to 'issues' with social services, who have tried to negotiate between victims and their families instead of offering immediate protection.

In some 'closed' minority communities community leaders were acting as 'gatekeepers' to forced marriage instead of challenging the practice, the report found.

Charities helping victims of forced marriage backed the report's findings.

Kiran Cheema, regional adviser at Karma Nirvana, which runs a helpline for victims said schools had refused to put up posters warning children because parents might object.

'The reason for not enough orders is because people are worried about cultural sensitivities,' she said.

'They are worried about stepping on people's toes in regards to their culture. That's why people don't bring those orders forward - because they are afraid.'

Since the powers were introduced twelve months ago, in parts of England and Wales with large south Asian communities, 86 orders have been issued, nearly half to girls under 18.

The report said: 'Degrees of use varies by locality, and there is concern about underuse in some areas due to fear of approaching the courts, compounded by fear among some agencies of offending the local communities.'

Justice Minister Bridget Prentice called for 'all agencies' to take action against forced marriages as quickly as possible.

She said: 'We are all responsible for protecting those at risk of forced marriage within our society and it cannot be done by one person or one agency alone.

'I would urge all agencies to take appropriate action at the earliest possible opportunity and engage in a multi-agency effort to eradicate forced marriage.

'Forcing someone to marry is widely recognised as a human rights abuse and is simply unacceptable within our society, and our common culture of values based on equality and respect between men and women.

'My department will continue to take a leading role in disseminating the lessons learned during this first year and to provide agencies with the information and tools to be able to access protection for victims.'


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