Death sentence: Banoz Mahmod (right) was raped and strangeld by two of her cousins in 2006. The murder was ordered by her father (left)
If white British women were being forced to marry men they had never met, in a country they had never visited, there would be a national outcry. We would call it trafficking. But some liberals justify the practice as "cultural" when it involves Muslims and oppose making it a criminal offence.
Meena was forced into marriage with her 30-year-old cousin when she was 18 and planning to go to university. "I think I cried for five years, every day," she says. "My father begged me when I refused to marry him, so in the end I caved in. My mother was terrified I would bring shame to the family." Meena, now 23 and living in a refuge for women escaping domestic violence, tells me that, at the time, she did not think she was being coerced, and believed her parents had her best interests at heart.
"I now think completely differently," she says. "They just wanted to save face and look good to the imam and other elders. It was so I would not go to university and become ‘Westernised'. I hate them for what they did and think they should pay a price." Meena is in favour of a law that would criminalise forced marriage "because it will make some of them think twice before they do the same to other girls and women".
In November, a new law on forced marriage was introduced in Scotland. Its courts can now issue protection orders to those at risk, as in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. However, in addition, if breached the Scottish orders could carry a two-year prison sentence. David Cameron has described forced marriage as "little more than slavery" and, together with his Home Secretary Theresa May, is keen to criminalise the practice (though the Lib Dem Home Office minister claims it is not on the department's agenda).
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