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My battle against forced marriages—Justice Minister Prentice speaks out

PUBLISHED: 12:45 01 September 2008 | UPDATED: 13:35 05 October 2010

Justice Minister Prestice meets volunteers running women's refuge

Justice Minister Prestice meets volunteers running women's refuge

A CONVERTED house in a back street in East London has become refuge for women caught up in a hidden problem of forced marriages. Some have been abducted and even raped to force them into a marriage against their will. The women are used in order to get visas for men to slip into Britain through the back door. But now a bill has gone through Parliament which becomes law in October to tackle the scourge of forced marriages. Justice Minister Bridget Prentice, who visited the refuge, explains in this special East London Advertiser report why legislation was needed:

A CONVERTED house in a back street in East London has become refuge for women caught up in a hidden problem of forced marriages. Some have been abducted and even raped to force them into a marriage against their will.

The women are used in order to get visas for men to slip into Britain through the back door. But now a bill has gone through Parliament which becomes law in October to tackle the scourge of forced marriages.

Justice Minister Bridget Prentice, who has visited the refuge, explains in this special East London Advertiser report why legislation was needed:

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By Bridget Prentice

IT IS unacceptable that women in a modern, multi-cultural city like London are still suffering injustices of forced marriages.

That is why I have put the fight against forced marriage and domestic violence at the heart of my role as a Justice Minister.

Forcing someone into a marriage is unacceptable and the Government is working to make it stop.

I visited the Ashiana project in East London, which provides support to women who are either survivors of domestic violence or currently experiencing it.

Ashiana is unique because it offers an outreach service for women having difficulties at home and acts as a safe haven’ for victims of forced marriage.

The Ashiana Project demonstrates the vital role that the Voluntary Sector can play in tackling this problem.

Forced marriage is largely misunderstood. It is not an arranged’ marriage, where the couples have a choice of their parents’ selection. It is not unique to any one religion or culture, nor is it justified by any religious or cultural issue.

Forced marriage is a form of domestic violence and an abuse of human rights. Victims may suffer mental and physical abuse, abduction, unlawful imprisonment, loss of property and assets, humiliation and rape.

This can lead to a loss of self-confidence, removal from the home or familiar environment and in the worst cases death.

I recently learned about a 27-year-old woman named Sunita who contacted the Forced Marriage Unit, the Government’s one-stop shop’ for support and information to victims.

Sunita had been taken back home to India for a family holiday. But she was forced to marry a cousin of her sister-in-law.

The man had raped her and she was pregnant. Sunita was extremely traumatised.

The Forced Marriage Unit investigated the case and found that Sunita had been previously married to four other men in India. Her parents had lied to her, saying they had arranged the divorces when they hadn’t.

She had been forced to sign forms that she did not understand, including application forms for her new husband’s visa.

But she was terrified of what he might do to her if he was allowed into the UK. So the Forced Marriage Unit was able to have the visa refused.

Sadly, what happened to Sunita is not an isolated case. In 2007 alone, the unit and the Ashiana project in Walthamstow has dealt with more than 700 cases.

The Forced Marriage Act comes into force November 25, a powerful tool that will go a long way alongside current criminal protection to ensuring no-one is forced into marriage against their will. Women already in such marriages will also receive protection.

The Act gives courts the power to prevent forced marriages taking place.

They can make a Forced Marriage Protection Order, for example, to stop someone forcing another into marriage. A breach of such an order could lead to rison.

Police and courts are also able to treat many of the practices used in forced marriage such as kidnap and assault as criminal offences and deal with them accordingly.

These women aren’t alone in their pain. We all suffer when human rights are violated.

Bridget Prentice, Justice Minister

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