Published: 16/03/2008 00:00 - Updated: 19/02/2009 00:38

Seeking way to end forced marriages

BY JESSICA CUNNIFFE
Attitudes must be changed and money must be sought if forced marriage is to be eradicated from some of Luton's 'time-warped and traditiontrapped' communities.

That is what Luton-based academic Dr Nazia Khanum told Jenny Moody, the chairwoman of Luton Women's Aid and Margaret Moran, MP for Luton South, when she met with them on Friday afternoon to discuss the issue.

From left MP Margaret Moran, Dr Nazia Khanum and Jenny MoodyLast week Dr Khanum suggested in a report that more than 3,000 people are physically or mentally coerced or tricked into marriage - based on the fact that 300 cases are dealt with by the government's Forced Marriage Unit each year.

Dr Khanum believes that the only way forced marriage can be combated in Luton - which the government has identified as one of the 14 areas in the UK with a high forced marriage rate - is by changing attitudes.

She told Luton/Dunstable on Sunday: "Love is not a word used in some of these traditional families - it is hierarchy and duty.

"There are traditional families where important values are there. These are laudable.

"But certain practices involving men, women and children show an abuse of human rights, which is wrong."

She added that the perpetrators of forced marriage, be it physical or emotional, are often patriarchs striving to maintain the archaic status quo from a country which no longer preserves such values.

"Forced marriage exists within traditional communities.

"But the countries they have left behind have moved on.

"Instead some communities here are trapped in long lost tradition which they find comforting," she said.

Ms Moody, who has established Luton Women's Aid in 1972, spoke about seeing 'quite a few people' who are fleeing forced marriages.

Ms Moran, who commissioned the report and sits on the home affairs select committee, added that forced marriage is not exclusively a south Asian or Muslim issue but also prevalent in many other communities.

Though the three women are all working on the issue in different capacities, Ms Moran believes the lack of funding will hold them back.

She said: "It is pathetic that the only way we could fund the report was to beg for £500 from Hazel Simmons at Luton Borough Council.

"We need to get on with the next stages and haven't got a bean to do it."
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