An epidemic of forced marriages in Britain

A quiet epidemic of missing teenagers has Britain questioning its multicultural beliefs and asking why authorities have not acted to protect these children. Only a few weeks after the Archbishop of Canterbury suggested that the British allow for shari’a courts for Muslims, a new study indicates as many as 4,000 or more Muslim teens and young adults simply vanish every year — forced into arranged marriages by family members through abduction, rape, and threat of death:

The figures have triggered a public debate about religion, archaic family traditions and British identity. The government now estimates that 3,000 forced marriages take place in Britain per year.

Even Khanum doubts these numbers. In Luton alone, each year sees 300 calls to an emergency telephone line for victims of forced marriages. “We’re dealing with something here that happens in secrecy,” Khanum says. She estimates that there could be about 4,000 cases nationwide each year of children and young adults who are forced to marry and taken out of the country, both against their will.

The sociologist has found girls living like prisoners in their own families. Even girls who do extremely well in school and are preparing for university — are forced into marriage, some at 16 or younger. Khanum has examples of children who were promised enticing vacations in the countres their families came from. And then, right after they arrive, they are suddenly told that there will be no trip back because the groom is already waiting.

According to Khanum, the girls are usually cowed into submission by threats. They are warned that if they refuse to wed their arranged partner, the dishonor will force her parents to divorce, for example. Or that the mother will commit suicide. They are bribed with gifts and penalized with rape. Moreover, not all of the disappearing children are girls. In fact, 15 percent of all cases concern young boys forced into marriage.

As Der Spiegel notes, the most shocking aspect of this is how little outcry it has created in Britain. Teens simply disappear from school rolls, and no one thinks to question why. Most of these children would be British subjects, which one might suppose gives Britain some responsibility for their protection and welfare — and yet, the public has heard next to nothing about the scope of the problem until now.

This reflects the post-colonial unease that Britain has had for demanding assimilation rather than passively accepting laissez-faire multiculturalism. Wife-beating and calls for violent jihad drew official yawns, seen as simply an expression of differing cultural values, according to Stefan Marx. The government only began looking at this as a threat after 9/11, and only seriously after the London subway bombings in 2005.

They still seem loathe to intervene regarding forced marriages. The victims, 15% of whom are boys according to the study, usually wind up cooperating with their families for various reasons, including threats of death and suicide by parents. Honor killings have not been an unknown phenomenon, and once in the marriage, the victims have powerful pressure on them to continue their cooperation — and their status as chattel for the families.

Parliament has now begun to demand some answers from Pakistan about its missing teens, but it comes late in the day after the thousands who vanished from the system without so much as a shrug. It also shows once again the limits of multiculturalism and the need for societies to operate from a single shared legal code that protects the rights of everyone equally.