A diplomat's struggle against forced marriage

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22 Jun 2008 09:11 #16392 by Garm
A diplomat's struggle against forced marriage
Envoy helps British women of Pakistani descent escape family coercion
Washingtonpost.com
By Mary Jordan
June. 22, 2008

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Helen Rawlins climbed into her Toyota Land Cruiser at 7:30 in the morning, off to rescue another woman.
The British diplomat settled into the back seat as she whizzed by the baking bustle of the Pakistani countryside: the women in colorful head scarves sitting in three-wheeled rickshaws, donkey carts piled high with mangoes, and elaborately painted buses where women sit apart from men.
Rawlins knew a tense confrontation awaited. Lately, she had been making a trip such as this once a week -- to help British women of Pakistani descent lured to this country and forced, sometimes at gunpoint, into marriage.

The British government views forced marriages, often performed after beatings or threats of violence, as a human rights abuse, far different from arranged marriages to which the bride and groom consent.
It is Rawlins's job to stop them. In an age of increasingly fluid migration, and aided by instant communication, the British diplomat works 3,700 miles from London to help women from her own country.

On this June day, the victim was 21. A friend of hers called a British Embassy hotline, and Rawlins then exchanged clandestine text messages and telephone calls with the woman. Now she was on her way to take her back.
\"She was very, very clear she wants out of here,\" said Rawlins, looking cool in a proper navy blue suit, despite the near-100-degree heat.

A security agent with a face wrinkled by years and sun, his gun hidden underneath a flowing white tunic, followed Rawlins's car in a white pickup truck.

Rawlins's cellphone rang.
She was still more than an hour away from the woman's village when she received word of another emergency: A 17-year-old girl, born and raised in Scotland, had taken shelter in the British High Commission, as the embassy is known in this former colony.
Rawlins listened as the British official explained the details. The girl said she hadn't realized that her parents had brought her to Pakistan to marry. She wanted to choose her own life. She has a boyfriend back home in Britain.

Her mother, furious and wailing, had followed her. She was demanding to see her daughter. But the girl was refusing to talk to her, terrified her family might kill her. They had already taken her passport.

In Britain, girls of Pakistani descent, many of them first-generation British citizens, are raised in a Western country where women dress, date and marry as they please. Some rebel against the traditions of their parents' homeland, where liquor is banned, women cover their heads, and it is scandalous for unmarried women to talk to men who are not their relatives.

No culture or religion endorses forced marriages, but parents often see it as a way of defending their traditions. Marriage to a first cousin or someone from the family's home village is viewed as a way to preserve family honor, prevent marriage outside their religion and keep wealth within the family.

So parents bring their daughters to Pakistan, revealing their true intentions only after they arrive. By then, the girls are surrounded by family, with no place to turn and the threat of violence if they resist.

Before 2000, British officials tended to view forced marriages as a foreign custom not theirs to judge. But these British-raised young women are increasingly worldly and assertive, and many now have cellphones hidden in their burqas or handbags. From even the remotest villages, they are increasingly calling for help. And the British government has set up a special group to rescue them.

The Forced Marriage Unit operates out of an office on the edge of Trafalgar Square in London and rescues hundreds of women every year. Many of the 4,000 calls it receives each year involve cases in the United Kingdom, but the unit has diplomats in embassies around the world on standby for overseas rescues.

Rawlins heads the team in Pakistan, which handles about two-thirds of the cases reported outside Britain. It operates with the consent of Pakistani authorities.

Now since this type of discussion is semi new to the form, the idea is to post your replies and comments to the articles...and also post your own when a topic sparks your interest.

Enjoy :)

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22 Jun 2008 09:17 #16393 by Garm
oh yeah, I should add that these are not ment to be too heavy, simply a place to say your view on a given story...so no flaming (or at least politely :laugh: ) please.

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22 Jun 2008 09:23 #16394 by
Well I for one am against arranged marriage unless it is consentualy on both sides, not tradition. Yes tradition does has its place, but needs to be adapted with changing times. An old employee of mine had an arranged marriage, at first he was completely against the idea of returning to India to marry someone he did not know or could trust. So he took a leave of absence, told his family that he would see but not promise. His family was not happy but he told them to take it or leave it. For 6 months he stayed in India to get to know this girl, and must say they did marry and now have a 2 year old daughter.

I have respect for this British diplomat by helping those that feel that they have not place to turn. I also say \"HELL YEAH!\" to those ladies that are refusing to do this and taking life by the horns so to say in deciding their own future.

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22 Jun 2008 09:41 #16396 by
For obvious reasons it isnt widely publicised, but for many many years, such groups and safe houses have existed in the UK to help such women and girls, yes thats right, it isnt just over 18years olds that get carted away for this.

There are also people at the other end of the chain who do their best to repatriate these women and girls back to their 'Home Land of Birth' (if they so wish) in the UK or wherever.

Such helpers are true heroes in my mind, they face a great deal of danger in what they do,

In my view view, forced arranged marriages are no better than slavery, if the person or persons would like to have an arranged marriage then fair enough, but to force it upon others...

Anyway, just my view, oh PS the Islamic faith inst the only one in which this is common practise, just probably the most publicised.

On the up side, some one or oven a few were recently convicted of kidnap and slavery for forcing a girl into an arranged marriage abroad. Shame it doesn't happen more often (the convictions).

MTFBWY - A

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10 Jul 2008 18:57 #17036 by Alethea Thompson
I have a friend who returned from Iraq not long ago. She spent 14 months working at a Detainee facility in Iraq. She told me a story in which two detainees refused to get along with the women guards because they were just that-women. She also, however, admitted that it wasn't a widely viewed practice to simply ignore the female guards. Many worked better for them than they did the male guards.

After speaking with her about her experiences, what I gathered, is that Muslims-of Iraq- DO have respect for women, as long as it does not bring dishonor to them or their family. However, it is rarely the case that a man-no matter what act he commits-is seen as having brought dishonor in the home.

It is very sad that arranged marriages constantly continue in various cultures, and I am grateful to the diplomat in this story. A man usually, in Iraq-as I understand it-only marry for children and status. Much like a rich person may own a dozen cars because he has a fetish with being able to say he/she drives them.

May the Force be with you,
Randi Oxford

Gather at the River,
Setanaoko Oceana

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