• 02 Jun - 08 Jun, 2018
  • Shahed Sadullah
  • London Eye

Over the past few days, the Pakistani media has given extensive coverage to the case of a Pakistani mother who was convicted in Birmingham of deceiving her teenage daughter into travelling to Pakistan to enter into a forced marriage. The case was the first successful prosecution for this offence, an offence which is directed almost exclusively against people from the South Asian subcontinent with Pakistanis the most likely to be netted in.

Superintendent Sally Holmes, head of the Public Protection Unit and lead officer on domestic abuse, said this case was the first prosecution of its kind in the West Midlands.

Last year, a specialist service opined that there were almost 1200 forced marriages – 1196 to be precise; more than a quarter related to victims below the age of 18, while 20 per cent of those affected were males, going against the popularly held idea that this was something that only affected young girls. It is a practice that has been going on for decades and even back in the mid 1980s, it was not unusual for PIA flights to be delayed because one passenger had gone missing. It was a young girl who said she needed to go to the toilet and thus, went away from the family party she was travelling with, not to be seen again for another week.

On one occasion it was a boy who said he had left his transistor radio in the car and went to the car park and thence, away. They were all fleeing from a forced marriage.

The number of cases of forced marriages recorded in 2017 were 19 per cent less than the previous year although this does not mean that the prevalence of such cases has become any less, we are told. The numbers that are available only include the cases actually reported to the Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) jointly run by the Foreign Office and the Home Department, while it is recognised that many such cases go unreported and never get into the statistics.

While it is emphasised the forced marriages are not a problem related to any one country or any one culture, and the FMU has dealt with cases relating to a wide variety of 65 nations, the fact of the matter is that the four countries with the highest number of cases are Pakistan (439 cases), Bangladesh (129 cases), Somalia (91 cases) and India (82 cases). Obviously, Pakistan’s almost unassailable lead in that list cannot be a matter of any pride. Although there are no figures available in this regard, but the overwhelming number of cases from the top three countries in that list pertain to Muslims. And in 120 of these cases, there was no overseas connection or element involved, with the potential or actual forced marriages taking place entirely in the UK. In fact, in a city which has a large immigrant population from Pakistan, an industry had sprung up which specialised in catching young girls or boys fleeing such an arrangement and bringing them back to their families.

The one major problem that has been faced in fighting arranged marriages is the issue of repatriation of the victims back to the UK after they have sought refuge in a British Consulate or High Commission abroad. There was quite a bit of noise when it emerged that a few years ago, the British High Commission in Islamabad asked a girl, aged 17, to sign a loan agreement to pay for her return fare to the UK. No banks allow loans to anyone below the age of 18 and therefore, the question raised was how is it expected that these people would procure any loan to pay for their airfare? This young girl in question was issued a bill of £814 as the cost of her repatriation and told that she would not get her passport back till she paid up. After the story was published, readers contributed to raise the amount for her. Since then, an NGO active in this field, called the Muslim Women’s Network, took up the case of those under the age of 18 who were caught in these circumstances and the government has said that the cost of their repatriation will be borne by the state.

Test match against England – A matter of pride

At the moment we are in one of those rare phases when we can raise our heads with pride with positive coverage of Pakistan. The Pakistan cricket team is playing its First Test against England at Lords and as I write this, after two days’ play, a young and inexperienced side has fared extremely well having outplayed England in all three departments of the game. Of course, even on this not all coverage is positive because the inbuilt negative mindset of the media towards Pakistan manifests itself even in this; the daily cricket analysis on Sky Sport after the day’s play with former England captain Bob Willis has now, for two days, taken place without any Pakistani on the panel, although to my knowledge there are four former Pakistani captains currently in London. In some aspects, the leopard is incapable of changing its spots. •