When we talk about the British Bangladeshi based in the UK, the only thing we Imagine is that people having their roots in Bangladesh are settling down in a first world country that offers a lifestyle, advanced educational and employment opportunities to them. Bangladeshi people migrating to the UK is nothing new. People move there to improve their financial condition, support their families, and eventually clears the path of immigration for other family members. But inside their simple and tidy lifestyle, many negative practices are still prevalent that violate the human r. Forced marriages in the British Bangladeshi community is such a practice.
The institution of marriage is one of the most important chapters in anyone’s life. Valid consent is mandatory from both prospective spouses in marriage. Forced marriages are events where one or both spouses do not consent to marriage and coercion is used against them in the forms of threat, physical torture, or manipulation by their family or relatives. This is different from an arranged marriage. Forced marriage is a deceptive act and a punishable offense in Britain. The maximum punishment for forced marriage is seven years imprisonment. Despite it being a legally forbidden act, every year many girls and boys become victims of forced marriages in Britain. The majority of those victims are girls and from South Asian backgrounds.
Forced marriage is widespread in British Bangladeshi Community. It often goes unreported which makes it difficult to get an accurate picture of the existing problem. According to the statistics of the Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) under the UK government, a total of 759 forced marriage cases was handled by them in 2020. Pakistan (38%) tops the table in terms of focus countries and Bangladesh (9%) stands in second. Focus countries include those territories where the victim has his/her ancestral root, where the marriage is due or the victim is residing at present. In 2019 as well, Bangladesh stood second with an 11% case rate.
In most British Bangladeshi families, girls do not have the agency to decide when to marry or whom to marry. For British Bangladeshi parents, it is fine to raise their daughters in a different cultural setting, but it is not okay for them when their daughters grow up with a modern and independent mindset. This is when forced marriage is imposed upon them. The main way British Bangladeshi parents deceive their daughters for forced marriage is by taking them to Bangladesh in the name of family visits and then emotionally blackmailing them to marry the boy of their choice. When this trick does not work, they threaten them for life, cut off financial support, confines them, or physically tortures them. As a result, victims are left with no choice but to marry the person of their family’s choice. British Bangladeshi girls or boys rarely visit their ancestral homes. This is why they have weak ties with their relatives there. When they are forced, they find no help from relatives as they feel isolated and helpless here. Moreover, Britain’s culture is different from ours. So, it is unwise to expect them to get used to Bangladeshi culture or marry anyone here whom they never have met or spent their time with. On top of that, the decision of whom to marry should solely be taken by the person herself. After all, it is they who would spend the rest of their life with, not their parents or relatives. For this, the idea of forced marriage is unacceptable and harmful. Although the new generation adopts cultural and social changes in Britain, the older generation hardly accepts those changes. They like to pass on the traditions to the next generation at any cost. This often results in intergenerational conflicts that also is a key contributor to forced marriage.
There are many reasons why forced marriage is still an existing problem. Firstly, parents want to marry off their daughters to control their independent lifestyle or sexual activity. Patriarchal ideology and structure contribute to this problem. Family, more specifically male members exert power over their daughter’s or sister’s life and take decisions on behalf of them. They fear that their daughters might engage in romantic relationships with partners outside their religion or have sexual activity outside marriage. Also, it is believed by most conservative religious families that family honor or reputation is dependent on the female members of a family and it should be preserved at any cost. To save family honor, these parents resort to forced marriages. It is not rare that parents murder or torture their daughters to death to protect their so-called family honor. Secondly, to inherit ancestral property British Bangladeshi parents select Bangladeshi partners for their daughters. Sometimes girls are forcefully married to their cousins to have control over family property and wealth. Thirdly, marrying off their daughters to a Bangladeshi boy means that the boy, as well as the extended family members, can enter Britain and claim British citizenship easily after the marriage. Fourthly, British Bangladeshi parents choose a Bangladeshi bride for their sons because they find deshi girls naive and easy to control, unlike the independent British Bangladeshi girls. They prefer a homely bride for their well-educated British boy. Such perception is discriminatory and attacks the dignity of Bangladeshi girls.
Forced marriage is not only a threat to human right but also it incorporates different forms of gender-based violence. The exercise of force involves physical, financial, and psychological abuse. Not only that, when a girl is forcefully married against her will, it increases the risk of domestic violence, marital rape, and other violent behaviors. The victim suffers from anxiety, depression, PTSD, and chronic psychological disorder due to the uncertainty and brutality of the situation. The exercise of forced marriage bars a person from enjoying the freedom of life. This is also a threat to the cultural and social integrity of any community. However, it is a positive thing that many governments and non-government agencies like Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) and Karmanirvana are working for the elimination of forced marriage in Britain. Anyone at risk of forced marriage or honor-based violence can ask for their assistance and they respond to the potential victims with great care.
About the writer:
Nujhat Jahan likes to write on contemporary criminal and feminist issues with great passion. Her educational background in Criminology has given her a broad base from which to explore and evaluate several issues. She believes in bringing a positive change in the minds of the readers through her writings.