Londoners are ‘morally ambiguous’ about forced marriage, experts warn

Too many young Londoners are  “morally ambiguous” about forced marriage and must be taught about human rights, campaigners warned today.

A new study of the views of young people from immigrant families found some believe forced marriage can be “good” for women and is done with their best interests at heart.

Researchers found that while the same group of young Londoners are against female genital mutilation, there is more acceptance of  forced marriage.

Naana Otoo-Oyortey, executive director of the charity FORWARD, which commissioned the report, said many people still support the supposed reasons why forced marriage happens, such as protecting virginity.

The report concluded that raising awareness of “the absolute nature of human rights” is vital in combatting both forced marriage and FGM. Ms Otoo-Oyortey said: “Notions of chastity were very strong even among those who say they are liberal”, and forced marriage was seen as “an acceptable way of stopping girls being  promiscuous.”

She added that people are now more willing to speak about female genital mutilation, but that forced marriage is the “new taboo.”

Researchers questioned a group of 18- to 30-year-olds living in London whose families are from countries where FGM and forced marriage occur, including Iran, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan and Nigeria.

The study, which was also carried out in Lisbon and Amsterdam, found young people are aware of the harmful consequences of forced marriage and know that women are often victims of physical and psychological abuse within those marriages.

But it said: “There was more moral ambiguity evident in relation to forced marriage than around FGM. Some young respondents argued that in  certain cases forced marriage was the result of parents acting out of desperation and with their child’s best interests at heart.” Ms Otoo-Orteney said: “The biggest recommendation from the young people was that education on FGM and forced marriage should be taught in schools and this confirms the need to have stronger involvement from the Department of Education.”

The report found that in London economic factors are also a driving force behind forced marriage, with families wanting to boost their social or economic standing, while others supported it through fear of girls having pre-marital sex or getting pregnant.

Latest estimates, for 2008, show between 5,000 and 8,000 cases of forced marriage or the threat of one were reported to UK authorities.

A link to the article can be found here.