A recent report by the Middle East Research Institute highlighted the practice in rural Pakistan of girls as young as a year old being married off by their parents to adult men. The reasons vary from so-called cultural traditions, debt settlement, exchange for land or dowry, or to settle a dispute between families. Most of these cases are not reported to the police, which many Islamic clerics justify because it avoids "dishonour" in the family. Unfortunately, in Britian cultural relativists and liberals sympathetic to some forms of Sharia law, also support the right of Islamists to police their own communities and override the rule of law.
Maryam Namazie, an Iranian feminist and spokesperson for One Law For All, which campaigns against Sharia, believes that forced marriage is one of the main problems for Muslim girls and women. "In a place like Afghanistan a majority of females are in prison for ‘moral' crimes, including refusing to marry the man chosen by their families," she says. "This is increasingly a problem for women and girls here in Britain, especially with the rise of Sharia courts, which validate and rubber-stamp forced marriages."
Criminalising forced marriages won't end the practice overnight, admits Namazie but, as other supporters of the change have argued, criminalising domestic violence did not end violence against women in the home, and drink-driving still leads to death on the road despite the penalties. "But it will be an important start in battling it and making clear what is intolerable in our society. And it will help to protect countless citizens."
For Aisha Gill, it is vital to hear the victims. "The message does suffer if there are no prosecutions, as the perpetrators think they can get away with it. But I have a problem with stand-alone legislation that only targets certain communities."
Therein lies the liberals' dilemma. They don't want to single out the Muslim community for criticism but end up supporting the patriarchs and condemning young women to a life of unhappiness and servitude. They should know better.
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