LONDON – The British government has launched a new campaign against forced marriages, a common practice among the Asian community in Britain. The purpose of the campaign is to create awareness against the practice as an abuse of human rights and a form of domestic violence. The campaign, launched by the Home Office and Foreign and Commonwealth Office forced marriage unit (FMU), contain a series of radio and Press advertisements, TV fillers and posters. Leading British actors like Meera Syal and Ameet Chana are spearheading the campaign. “Forced marriage affects children, teenagers and adults from all races and religions, including Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims and Sikhs,” says Baroness Scotland QC, Home Office Minister. “And it is not solely an issue facing Asian communities. We deal with cases in the Middle East, western Balkans and Africa. Forced marriage is a form of domestic violence and a human rights abuse. The victims often face emotional and physical abuse. We are determined to help young people at risk and protect their right to choose whom they marry.” The new campaign aims to increase awareness of the issues surrounding forced marriage. It will highlight the difference between forced and arranged marriage, and make clear that forced marriage is an abuse of human rights and a form of domestic violence. The campaign will also publicise the support available to young people affected by forced marriage and encourage them to seek help. It will highlight the damaging emotional consequences to families and the crimes involved in forcing someone into marriage. “We increasingly have to tackle complex issues such as forced marriage in the UK and overseas and we want to highlight that there is help available for people who are facing this abuse of human rights,” says Lord Triesman, Foreign & Commonwealth Office Minister for Consular Policy. “The joint forced marriage unit, which has recently celebrated its first anniversary, engages more widely than ever before to deliver effective support to people forced into marriages. We remain committed to providing confidential support and practical assistance for those at risk of being forced into marriage here and abroad.” Celebrated author and actress Meera Syal said the marriage is a bond between two individuals and it needs consent from both the parities. “This is an extremely important campaign for all members of the community – young and old,” says Meera. “For young people, they need to know that there is help out there and that it is okay to ask for help. And we want the older generations to know that we respect their culture, tradition and we understand that arranged marriages have a place in society. But there is a vast difference between an arranged and a forced marriage – consent.” “I, probably like most people, believed that only women were affected and forced into marriage, but I was amazed to find that 15 per cent of the cases that are currently reported to the unit are men,” says dormer Eastenders star Ameet Chana. “I bet that the numbers are far greater, but it’s hard for men to come forward and admit they need help and are being forced into a situation like this. This campaign is a key to reassuring them that they are not alone and help is available.” Around 250 forced marriages are made known to the government every year, but there is believed to be a massive number of unreported cases. In around 85 per cent of cases the victims are women, with some girls as young as 13. The issue is not only linked to so-called honour killings, where families take revenge on individuals who resist their wishes, but a high suicide rate among young Asian women.
By Kristin E. Holmes PHILADELPHIA — The veil shrouding spouse abuse in Muslim families is being torn away by some mosque leaders — putting them at the forefront of efforts by American Muslims to stem domestic violence. The Philadelphia clergy council — known as the Majlis Ash’Shura of Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley — has adopted a tough policy of public shunning of Muslims who abuse their spouses or abandon their families. Under the initiative, adopted in May, offenders will go on a list circulated among area Muslims. They will be banned from future marriages in communities that adhere to the policy. Fellow Muslims will be discouraged from patronizing any businesses they own. “We need to take a public stand,” said Imam Isa Abdul-Mateen, secretary of the Majlis Ash’Shura, an association of 30 imams. “We want people to know that this will not be tolerated.” In coming months, the council will address issues such as the criteria for putting names on the list and safeguards to protect spouses who step forward. Domestic violence appears no more prevalent in Muslim communities than elsewhere, but Islamic advocacy groups and others have tried to push the problem into the open. With the new policy, Philadelphia leaps over other Muslim communities that are just starting to confront the issue, said Maha Alkhateeb, project manager of the Peaceful Families Project, a Virginia-based nonprofit that addresses domestic violence among Muslims. A striking aspect of the initiative is that it was started not by female advocates but by the male leadership, said Amina Wadud, author of “Qur’an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text From a Woman’s Perspective.” “This is setting a new precedent, globally.” The Rev. Marie Fortune of the FaithTrust Institute in Seattle, a leading domestic-violence policy center, said she knew of no other religious community in the country that had “so specific and rigorous” a policy. Within Muslim families, domestic violence remains largely a taboo subject, Alkhateeb said. Some Muslims deny its existence in a faith in which men are supposed to be protectors of women and children. Some immigrant families are too focused on building a better life to deal with the issue. Activists also cite a widespread reluctance to air problems and expose fellow Muslims to public scandal. As a consequence, there is little data on the extent of the problem. One study, done in 2000, surveyed 500 Arab women in Dearborn, Mich., and found that 18 percent to 20 percent said they had suffered spouse abuse, a rate similar to that in the general population. Approximately 98 percent of the sample was Muslim, said Anahid Kulwicki, a professor at Oakland University in Rochester, Mich., who did the study. There are signs that Muslims are awakening to the problem. A group of imams signed a pledge to fight domestic violence at a recent Peaceful Families conference in Washington. A turning point in Philadelphia may have come in 2001 when a city police officer killed his wife and then himself. Both were Muslims, and the incident shook the Muslim community, said Taalibah Kariem-White, of Germantown, a domestic-violence expert who lectures nationally on the issue. The policy applies to both men and women. Though there are few female batterers, Mateen envisions the sanctions applying to women who make or threaten false claims to police or vindictively deny a man visitation with his children.