Speech on the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill – Committee (1st Day) – 12 Nov 2013

My Lords, coming back to what the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, said earlier on forced marriage, I, too, am glad that the Government are taking this seriously and are trying to do something about this awful practice involving many victims whose lives are made miserable. At the same time I, too, wonder whether the measures that the Government are trying to take will be helpful or counterproductive, as I said at an earlier stage. As has been suggested by other noble Lords, I fear that by making forced marriage a criminal act, a lot of young people will not come forward to report it, so it could be pushed more under the carpet, rather than being dealt with.

Will the Minister shed some light on the background from which forced marriage comes? I share the view that it is not an issue from one particular community or faith. However, many noble Lords will know that most cases registered with the Forced Marriage Unit of the Home Office come from the Pakistani Muslim community. I speak from that community, as I belong to it and know what is happening. Does the Minister understand that one of the major factors in forced marriages is the clan system? The tribe system strongly exists within the Pakistani community in the UK, although we have been settled here for 40 or 50 years. In the tribes, sects, brathries, clans or castes—whatever name we use—people are divided into those groups and many of them do not want their sons or daughters to marry out of their clans, brathries or castes. This is where many forced marriages are taking place.

Does the Minister recognise that and what will the Government do about educating people to come out of the brathries system? I get invited to many community meetings and have spoken many times about this. I have written in the Urdu language, which I am able to do, in newspapers against this practice. For example, 15 years ago in my home town of Luton, there was a big community meeting where we discussed community issues. There were a couple of hundred people there, and I spoke on this issue. By the time I had finished, every leader of every clan or caste gave me a dirty look, as if to say, “How dare you?”. That is how strongly the caste system is built into some of these cultures. We need to educate them not only through the normal education channels but through the ethnic media, which has hardly been mentioned but which can play a positive role in educating people.

Then there is the film industry. I was watching a film on one of the satellite channels; many Pakistani-origin people watch dramas and films on these channels. In this film, a female was to be married to someone out of her caste. Another female tells her, “My dear, you will have to give up this idea”, and points to the cemetery outside their house, saying, “It is full of virgins”. They are the virgins who were not allowed to get married outside the caste. This is how strongly this is practised outside the UK and these films, when they are shown, have an impact on people’s lives and behaviour. We need to understand that as well, and maybe we need to educate our own people in how to look into it.

On the particular issue of the media, DfID is giving millions of pounds to media outlets operating in the UK and in Pakistan. I hope that some of that money will be used for programmes to educate on forced marriages by the media that are supported financially by DfID. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us how he thinks he can prevent the criminalisation of forced marriage discouraging reporting. I strongly feel that that may happen and we need to look at it very carefully. I hope that he can satisfy us.

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