Many Britons would be surprised to learn that people they might see on the streets of their own cities and towns are forced to marry. How much more disturbing must it be to discover that some of those marriages involve children?
The Telegraph reports that since the government's Forced Marriage Unit opened in 2005, it has rescued almost sixty kids aged fifteen or younger — drawn primarily from the nation's Pakistani Muslim population — who were being forced by their families to wed. According to Jasvinder Sanghera, director of the Karma Nirvana charity:
"The youngest child we have dealt with was nine years old," she said. "The girl told her teacher she was going to be forced to marry someone and initially she was not believed.
"Ultimately, with the help of the Forced Marriage Unit, she was dealt with through child protection procedures. She was assessed and, thankfully, taken into foster care."
This disturbing practice has received greater attention since March, when a parliamentary committee heard that hundreds of minority students were missing from classrooms and may have been sent into wedlock abroad. However, while Sanghera believes that schools are the key to identifying and educating at-risk youths, she notes that innocents are once again being sacrificed at the altar of political correctness. "We have no idea how many children under sixteen are at risk, and this is compounded by a reluctance of schools to engage with the issue," she stated. "Many schools shy away due to supposed cultural sensitivities."
Member of Parliament Ann Cryer has argued that her colleagues are equally weak in the knees. A month ago she warned, "There still is a nervousness to talk about this, especially those MPs in constituencies affected by these issues." They are "keeping quiet" because "they don't want to lose votes." She also criticized Muslim leaders for "doing their communities a disservice and trying to keep them in the backwoods."
Some Islamic groups are not only unhelpful, but contribute directly to an atmosphere in which child marriage is normalized. Commenting on the perils of Shari'a law being granted a beachhead in the British legal system, Melanie Phillips cites this troubling passage from a book by religious rights activist Patrick Sookhdeo:
The Shari'a Council of the Darul Uloom London even appears to assume the possibility of child marriages, as there are instructions on its website for how to deal with the divorce of a girl who has not yet reached puberty.
Forced marriage has no place in the civilized West. This is doubly true for unions of minors, which are by definition forced. Sadly, it is up to a nine-year-old girl to offer government officials — often wedded to illusions of multicultural utopias — a lesson in reality and courage.