Forced marriages: Girls still sent to Kashmir as brides

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MUZAFFARABAD: Staff at the UK’s Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) say they dealt with 1,485 cases of possible forced marriages in 2012, with 47.1 percent of these involving Pakistan. FMU officials have been quoted as saying most of these were from Mirpur in Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) a service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports that hundreds of cases of forced marriage are thought to take place annually, involving British nationals married against their will in Kashmir, particularly in and around the industrial town of Mirpur.

Since the late 19th century, Kashmir has had a large diaspora – estimated to be around one million – with many communities concentrating in British cities like Bradford, Glasgow and London. To preserve their culture and traditions, some families favour sending their children – particularly daughters – back to Kashmir.

Campaigners say such marriages are cruel, leading to “murders and chaos”, either as couples fail to get along or when young women resist. Shafilea Ahmed, 17 years old at the time of her murder nine years ago in the UK, was the victim of one such crime, which made headlines when her parents were brought to trial.

Khalida Salimi, executive director of the Islamabad-based NGO Struggle for Change (SACH), told IRIN,

“This is a cultural practice. Families want to marry their children to the offspring of relatives as they believe they will prove to be good partners for them. We hear of around 300 cases of such marriages annually, though many more may actually take place.”

She said most “but not all” cases involved girls. Thousands of those forced to marry remain in Kashmir. Economic factors are also involved, either to keep wealth within families or because once a Pakistani man marries a UK national he can go to Britain to get a well-paid job. “This is the most common reason for such marriages,” Salimi said.

Laws in Pakistan bar forced marriage, said Salimi, while the practice is also regarded as a form of slavery by organizations dealing with such abuses.

As awareness grows, attempts to dissuade parents from forcing children into marriage have grown.

Senior Islamic cleric Hafiz Nazir Ahmed believes, “Marriages of this kind are totally against Islam. But we all know they continue to take place, and it is saddening to see these young girls, some mere children, deluded by their own parents.” He said he himself refused to formalize such marriages, but said “other clerics did.”

Some legal support is available in Pakistan, but campaigners say only a minority get support. Trans Asia

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