“As I’m sure you can understand it has been a very difficult time for me. I’m deeply upset by what has occurred and the treatment I’ve suffered. But I do not wish my parents to suffer any punishment for what has happened. I am their only child and they are still my parents.”
Humayra Abedin, a Bangladeshi national and doctor for the National Health Services, UK was held captive in Bangladesh for more than four months. She was bound, gagged and injected with what she believes were antipsychotic drugs before being forced into marriage by her parents.(1)
Dr. Abedin has lived in the UK since 2002. In early August 2008 she was duped by her parents into traveling to Dhaka claiming that her mother, Sofia Kamal, was ill. She was 32 years old at the time. Upon arriving at her family home, she was manhandled into the property by a number of people and immediately locked in a room. Her passport and other documents were confiscated and she was heavily guarded and drugged for the next few days. During this time, she somehow managed to send a few text messages to friends in the UK. On 13th August 2008, she was physically manhandled onto the street and into an ambulance which was parked outside of her parents’ home. In the ambulance she was still shouting and screaming for assistance and two of the people in the ambulance gagged her by placing their hands over her mouth to the extent that at one point she believed she would suffocate because she could not breathe. She was taken to a clinic in Dhaka where she was injected against her will with what she believed to be mood stabilizers and anti-psychotic drugs, despite her struggles. Her mother was present throughout.(2)
She was told that she would not be discharged until she confirmed that:-
(a) She would not be returning to the United Kingdom;
(b) That she would be resigning from her employment in the United Kingdom; and
(c) That she would disassociate herself from everybody she knew in the United Kingdom.
She remained at the clinic till 5th November 2008 when she was taken to an area called Jessore.
“By that time I was in a complete state of despair, my spirit was broken and I felt there was no means by which my position could be resolved. I felt helpless. I continued to be in the company of my mother and whilst my movements were not completely monitored as closely as at the hospital it was made clear to me that I was not free to leave the area or leave the property. I had no means of communicating with the outside world save that I secretly managed to access email which I managed to use on a couple of occasions”.(2)
On 15th November, 2008, more family members started arriving and she was told she was to be married the next day. The marriage was performed in an unknown location where among others 5 members of her family and the mother, sister, sister-in-law of the “groom” were present.
Abedin’s ordeal came to an end when she was tracked down by Bangladeshi police on 15 December, 2008 and taken to the supreme court, which sanctioned her immediate repatriation to Britain. Abedin has throughout said she does not want to press charges against her parents.(1)
The action was taken on behalf of a writ petition filed by Abedin’s cousin, Dr. Shipra Chaudhry and Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK) organization.
Back in London, the UK High Court issued an order to prevent Dr Humayra Abedin being removed from Britain without her consent by her parents, her paternal uncle or the man she was forced to marry. The judge said that by granting an injunction against her family under powers enshrined in the Forced Marriage Act 2007 he hoped to send a strong message to all British communities among whom incidents of forced marriages occur.(1)
Marriages throughout history were arranged between families, especially before the 18th century. The emancipation of women in the 19th and 20th centuries changed marriage laws dramatically, especially in regard to property and economic status.(3) However, an arranged marriage is not the same as a forced marriage, in the former the spouse has the possibility to reject the offer, in the later they don’t. The line between arranged and forced marriage is however often difficult to draw, due to the implied familial and social pressure to accept the marriage and obey one’s parents in all respects.
The proportion of young men who are forced may be small (some say 15 per cent, against 85 per cent women), but they are also victims of this crime.(5)
Those who force individuals to marry often justify their behavior as protecting her or him as well as preserving cultural or religious traditions. Forced marriage cannot be justified on religious grounds: every major faith condemns it. Some commonly experienced reasons for forced marriages include:
- The notion of “family honor”
- Attempting to strengthen family link
- Ensuring land, property and wealth remain within the family
- Preventing relationships considered to be “unsuitable” for example outside a specific ethnic group
- Assisting claims for residence and citizenship
- Controlling unwanted behavior and sexuality (including perceived promiscuity, or being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender)
- The need to provide a carer for a person with mental and/or physical disabilities
No matter what the justifications, forced marriage is a form of abuse and breaches internationally recognized human rights standards.(6)
“Experiences are same in 2016 as they were 35 years ago”, says Jasvinder Sanghera, CEO of Karma Nirvana, a British charity. Sanghera campaigns to raise awareness of forced marriages. 35 years ago, at age 14, her parents of Indian descent, showed her a photo of a man who she was to marry. Sanghera refused and was taken out of school until she agreed. Finally, at age 16, she ran away from home and as a result was disowned by her family. The catalyst for Karma Nirvana came 8 years later when Sanghera’s sister, who was also forced to marry, committed suicide by setting herself on fire.
Sanghera says, “All the cases we deal with at Karma Nirvana are British-born subjects, 65 percent of them are within south Asian communities – Pakistani, Indian, Bangladeshi and Hindu communities. The other percentages are a reflection of the communities in Britain, so we are seeing Kurdish, Iranian, Afghan, Somali communities. We are even now seeing white British women who marry into these systems, who have dual-heritage children who may become victims of forced marriages also.
One of the things we understand is that your marriage is going to be arranged for you and your parents will present it to you as: This is what we do, it’s part of tradition, it is part of our culture, even religion. Some of our victims have been promised from birth, especially with first-cousin marriage.
I have no issue whatsoever with the tradition of an arranged marriage for somebody who has the full and free consent to say yes or no. The person needs to be above the age of 16 and have the mental capacity to be able to make that choice. What I disagree with is where the consent has been removed, and it is clearly forced. Cultural acceptance does not mean accepting the unacceptable. Perpetrators hide behind tradition and professionals fear treading on cultural toes, they fear being called a racist, and somehow they step back from it. What we need to do is make it clear: There is a very clear distinction of what constitutes an arranged marriage and a forced marriage. One is tradition, the other is abuse.”(4)
7. Feature image – http://www.expertwitnessjournal.co.uk