FM fires forced marriage warning ahead of Pakistan visit
LONDON (AFP) — Foreign Secretary David Miliband, ahead of his visit to Pakistan this week, said Sunday that Britain was taking a tougher stand against forced marriage with new powers to clamp down on the practice.
In an article in The Sunday Times newspaper
, Miliband said government action could only go so far though, and it was time that communities spoke out against forced marriages.
Britain's Forced Marriages Unit (FMU), set up in 2005, says 65 percent of its known cases involve Pakistan.
Distinct from mutually-accepted arranged marriages, forced marriages have led to suicides and "honour killing" murders in Britain, shocking a nation widely deemed to have successfully absorbed immigrant cultures.
Miliband recounted the tale of British diplomats rescuing a 15-year-old girl last week from a village near Mirpur in northern Pakistan, where she was being held prisoner and beaten by her father to get her to agree to marriage she did not want, to a man she had never met.
So far this year, the FMU has handled more than 1,500 reports of forced marriage and diplomats across the world have helped more than 400 people facing possible forced marriage or being made to sponsor an immigration visa after the marriage has taken place, Miliband said.
"Some will find it hard to believe forced marriage can still take place," he wrote.
"But whatever the reason and whatever the community, 'cultural sensitivity' must never be used as an excuse for moral blindness."
Miliband said the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007, which comes into force on Tuesday, would give courts greater ability to help those vulnerable through protection orders.
"These will ensure potential victims are not forced to marry, and those already married are not forced to carry on with the relationship. If the orders are breached the person responsible may be arrested. They will be in contempt of court, and may be imprisoned," he wrote.
"What we are doing is taking a clear stand against a practice that sees hundreds, maybe thousands, of young women and men in the UK taken from the life that they want to live and imprisoned, abused and -- in the words of one survivor -- sold to be raped.
"However, action by governments can get us only so far. For this abuse to stop, we need communities to speak out clearly as well -- to say that it will no longer be tolerated.
"The practice of forced marriage is a stain on those who carry it out, those who condone it and also those who ignore it."
Speaking to reporters Thursday, Miliband said about his forthcoming visit: "We want to support a democratic and thriving Pakistan.
"I'll be taking forward a political, economic and cultural dialogue that we have with Pakistan."