Forced marriage

I always wanted to have daughters. Being of a Jewish family, but completely non-religious myself (in fact – going in the other direction) it was no bigdeal to marry a non-Jew. However, had I had sons I would have had tohorrendous battles with my traditionally religious mother – from refusing to have my child circumcised or at age thirteen, Bar Mitzvahed.

Luckily for me I had two daughters – thus avoidingserious conflict with my mother. If they had been boys – and I had gone my own sweet way (as I most certainly would have) – it wouldn’t have been the end of our relationship and I certainly would not have faced family disgrace or been killed for bringing dishonour. I would simply have been an embarrassment and my mother would always have had to fend off comments from friends and neighbours – at least at that point in time.

Of course – since then – times have moved on again and fewer and fewerpeople hold those views as strongly now as they did thirty years ago.However, amongst some members of some communities – Jewish, Christian, Muslim and others – there is still a strong determination to keep to the very strict mores of their original traditions, motivated in large part I suspect because people fear assimilation or dilution of their beliefs amongst a multicultural society.

Hanging together in the face of adversity – and often in the face of havinga community flung into different parts scattered around the world – is anadmirable trait. But it can lead to some customs, traditions and religiouspractices that cross a line of what can be accepted in a civilised society- and so where the state does have (in my view) a duty to intervene andprohibit.

The dilemma for those making the state’s policies is where to draw theboundaries as to what is considered appropriate and civilised behaviour ina permissive and tolerant society that respects cultures, practices andtraditions of other religions and races.

Forced marriages – and the so-called honour killings that sometimes followthose who fight against that tradition – have now been put on the politicalagenda. Not, as promised, by the Government – but by my Liberal Democratcolleague Lord Lester, who introduced a Private Members’ Bill in the Lordsjust recently.

It was an innovative move, in that rather than looking at this from acriminal perspective, the Bill enables civil action. This is probably agood thing – as the intent of this legislation is not to criminalise ordemonise British Asians but to move to inhibit what cannot be tolerated and- of course – it affects many religions, in fact, not just Asian communities.

By bringing this into the civil courts, it puts the whole issue in therealm of ‘victim centred human rights approach’ and adds to the protectionsunder the existing laws. The Bill received its second reading and hopefullywill continue on through to law in due course – demonstrating thata tactful yet effective path can be followed between respecting traditionswhilst not neglecting the basic standards that make up our society.

(c) Lynne Featherstone, 2007