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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Speech on the Second Reading of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill – 29 October 2013

My Lords, I first congratulate my noble friend Lord Paddick on an excellent maiden speech. I look forward to working with him in the future.

This Bill covers a range of issues which I am sure will be covered in full elsewhere. I intend to focus my comments on the Bill’s provisions on forced marriage. Forced marriages in the UK came to light in the past 15 to 20 years. The full scale of the problem is still not known, as only cases of challenged forced marriages become public knowledge. However, forced marriages must not be confused with arranged marriages, which are quite common in some of the minority communities of the United Kingdom and have a very high success rate. I must declare an interest as someone who has enjoyed an arranged marriage for the past 35 years.

Forced marriages are not limited to any one community or any one particular faith. However, most cases registered with the Home Office Forced Marriage Unit are from the Pakistani Muslim community. Forced marriage is not permitted under any faith and the Islamic guidelines are very clear that the marriage is valid only with the consent of both people involved.

To look for solutions to bring an end to this terrible practice that ruins the lives of many young people—most of the victims are known to be young—we need to look at the background and the culture of these communities. We need to look carefully at whether, by declaring those involved in forcing others into a marriage against their will to be criminals, we are going to help resolve the issue or are going to push it more under the carpet. I welcome the fact that the Government are taking this issue as seriously as it should be taken, and I understand why they have come to the conclusion that forced marriage should be criminalised. However, my opinion is that many victims would not want to see their parents, who are normally the main culprits in forced marriages, behind bars. Thus, many cases may not get reported and the proposals in the Bill may have an adverse effect and be counterproductive.

Instead, I argue for more awareness among the potential victims and the schools, colleges and family doctors. Particular emphasis should be given to educating the parents. Most of the victims of Pakistani-origin families are forced to marry either one of their first cousins or a close relative. The medical evidence shows that this may lead to adverse effects. A study done by the University of Bradford concluded that:

“Marriage to a blood relative accounted for nearly a third”—

31%, to be precise—

“of all birth defects in babies of Pakistani origin”.

It was also reported that:

“The risk of having a baby with birth defects—usually heart or nervous system problems which can sometimes be fatal—is still small, but it rises from 3% in the general Pakistani population to 6% among those married to blood relatives”.

I strongly welcome the Government’s drive to reduce prisoner numbers by seeking alternatives that help prevent behaviour which we may consider wrong or dangerous. We should apply a similar approach to the issue of forced marriages. We must look into the awareness and education aspect, rather than creating another category of criminals.

Educating people about the rights of individuals, freedom of choice and mutual respect, along with sharing the findings of medical research, may be more helpful and productive than sending more people to prison. I look forward to discussing these issues further during Committee and I hope that the Minister will reflect on some of the concerns raised about whether criminalisation is the right tool to tackle what we all agree is a problem.

From Hansard

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