Everywhere in the world, marriage without consent or against the consent of the boy or girl is illegal. All over the world, every religion, customary and conventional law, have declared marriage as a civil contract. However, we deliberately neglect the prerequisite of a civil contract that is; a free will to contract of the parties. Therefore a civil contract without free will is void and revocable under law. Religiously speaking, Islam also does not allow forced marriages and it’s an offence under Pakistani laws.

The Muslim community has many reservations on the campaign of forced marriages. They believe that the parents have a right to decide the marriages of their child. As a cultural norm, they accept that under the prevailing circumstance in EU, UK and other foreign countries, the concept of love marriage of their daughters with a stranger or non Muslim is an intolerable notion. They believe that reaction is natural.

Sanctity of culture, tradition and religious rituals are sustainable factors, which cannot be softening without education and consistent interaction with modern civilization. The Muslim families settle in the UK temporarily for economic and livelihood purposes, but their children grow up with a different mindset. Muslim families are not responding too well to their children’s response to the social and cultural environment of western foreign countries.

Perhaps, the biggest problem in forced marriage is the traditional approach of the parents and other family members. Parents feel ashamed to address and discuss marriage issues with their daughters. Whereas, if the parents do ask or consult with the daughters, majority of the girls support the parents decision, while only a minority deny it while giving good reasons to refuse a marriage proposal.

The parents, particularly those in the Muslim community residing abroad should review their approach. Knowing the culture of the West, parents should regularly discuss these issues confidently with their children so they can understand each other’s point of views, feelings and fears. This may pave the way to a mutual decision between the parents and children, who can make up their mind together while settling what issues, may arise, thereby avoiding commitments with others.

Forced marriages are common in Pakistan. The menace does not only affect people in Pakistan, but also puts to suffering, people residing outside Pakistan, who are settled in foreign countries. They marry their sons and daughters against their consent to members of their family in Pakistan for various purposes, mostly to help get members of their family citizenship of the foreign country. Another possible purpose behind this could be family settlement of properties and mutual benefits of involved parties.

Recently, a new tendency has surfaced with regards to forced marriages, where the marriages are based on conspiracies to abducting a minor child. Forced marriages with these motives usually takes place in remote areas where poor girls are married off just for the sake of a child. The parties involved in this marriage normally pick orphaned or poor, illiterate girls with two temptations; the first relating to the girl being chosen possessing certain noble and pious qualities. They further manage this marriage while denying any need for dower or other expenses for the marriage. While this may seem like a good intentions from the boy’s family what hides behind this false humbleness to deceive the girl’s family is many a times the plan to return the girl back to Pakistan by deceiving her visiting her home country for the holidays and then abandoning her there. This chain of events is very tactfully conducted with the help of the boy or one of his family members, who accompany the girl on her visit to Pakistan but after a few days very cleverly, returns the foreign country with the minor child and the travel documents of the girl. Then the child remains with the family of the boy. Since the girl does not have any documents allowing her to travel back to her in laws, she is left with no option but to stay in Pakistan.

According to the British government, forced marriage is defined as one in which either one or both parties are forced to marry after being subjected to physical or mental torture or being victims to financial threats. According to the data provided by the British government the number of forced marriage between Pakistani and British people is abnormally higher than those between British citizens and foreigners from other countries.

In Pakistan, several young girls/women are forced into wed-lock against their consent. Pakistan is a Muslim country, and Islam gives full rights to girls to marry as per their own discretion, still we fail to follow Islam, and this injustice against women is continuing. The Constitution of Pakistan prohibits under-age marriages. No boy under 18 and no girl under 16 are allowed to marry. Unfortunately, the laws are only enacted, but no one is willing to act upon these laws which can protect women and young girls.

The British Interior Ministry and foreign office formed a Forced Marriage Unit. The British Government is considering introducing legislation against expatriate parents who force their daughters to marry according to the parents’ choice. The plan is to make forced marriage a criminal offence. In this context, the family members of the other party to the marriage should also be charged under abetment in forced marriages. Because parents from both sides intentionally aid to prepare this conspiracy.

The administrative authorities (Union Councils) and public servants who register the marriages and supervise marriage ceremonies (Nikka Khuwa-person administering the marriage rituals of contract) also fall within the ambit of abetment if they do not follow the rules of Nikkah (Contract). The public servants can become an interface in forced marriages and play an instrumental role in ensuring that girls are not under- age and they are being contracted in marriages out of their own free will. In case they have any cause to believe that an abuse of the Marriage Act or the marriage registration rules is taking place, they can make it a point to report to the police. This will help to curb the practice and punish anyone who violates the laws.

The new legislation will only help the Muslim community living in UK, particularly Pakistanis who make up the majority of the Muslim community. This legislative move however can no longer be effective without parallel legislation in Pakistan. Pakistan must move to correct the situation and cooperate with the British government in overcoming problems of introversion within the Pakistani community residing in UK. This can be done by improving the laws in Pakistan relating to marital coercion, which is expressly banned by Islam.

In Pakistan, forced marriage is against the law and abetment is also an offence under the Pakistan Penal code, 1860. These incidents mostly take place due to parental influence and fiat. If the girl does dare to get married without parental permission, she faces maltreatment and is also sometimes hunted down by her parents and subjected to punishments in various forms including honor killing, stove burning and sudden “accidental” death and disappearances.

To effectively control this menace at the state level, Pakistan and UK both under treaty series should sign an agreement on Forced marriage. Both countries’ domestic laws should prohibit forced marriage and treat the practice as a criminal offence. The guidelines and rules should also be designed to enforce this agreement through relevant ministries of both the countries. Both the states under this treaty may declare pre-marriage registration compulsory in the respective country. The procedure should follow a prescribed form to be filed while providing an undertaking that the marriage is being solemnized with the free will of the both the parties. This mechanism will frustrate the arrangement of forced marriages from the beginning till the end. The complaints of forcibly married girls to authorities can also be verified in this way.

In Pakistan and UK, in fact, traditional marriages lead to a situation where women have practically no voice even in perhaps the most important of decisions, the ones that have far -reaching effects on their lives. Due to the perception and fear of quick disengagement of marriage contracted outside families and community, the parents prefer cousin marriages which they believe and expect to make the family life of their daughters safe and happy.

Secondly forced marriage is a symbol to show supremacy and face saving in certain communities. The façade of having chosen an appropriate spouse gives an unhappy and disturbed family life to innocent girls. This, later on, also develops an outcome which often takes the shape of torture, domestic violence, honor killing, divorce or separation in the family. Reportedly, and in truth, forced marriages are failed marriages.

Forced marriage is an evil practice, a century’s old custom that needs to be laid to rest. Girls must be allowed to complete their schooling and attain high quality education for a quality life for both the parents and children. Parents must also obtain free and full consent from their children before contracting them into marriages, as it is their legal as well as their religious right to have a say in the decision which makes up for remaining better part of their life and future.

 

 writer is a former Judge, lawyer and Founding President of Center for Rule of law Pakistan.

judgemajid@hotmail.com