Thursday, 2 July 2009

Say "I do" and wave goodbye to life as you know it

Imagine the summer sun, sandy beaches, crashing waves and the hustle and bustle of holiday-makers enjoying the escape from their ordinary day to day lives. Then think of all of this and add into it church bells, marriage nuptials and the law-binding "I do's" to the seemingly celebrated occasion. Think again.

Every year, hundreds if not thousands of young girls and boys, often at schooling age, are forced into marriage by over-bearing parents. It happens in the UK as much as it happens elsewhere in the world. Not just in areas of the Middle East as often stereotypically believed. The government's Forced Marriage Unit has launched a new initiative into schools to raise awareness of the situation.

It has been uncovered in recent years that many young men and women, who go on Summer holidays with family are destined to never return. The end of their schooling career and the end of life as they know it. The reasoning behind these events will differ from case to case, but the utter negligence of the individual's own prerogative remains the same. I find this abhorrent.

What should be an exciting trip abroad, an escape from home life, turns into a scheme whereby young women and men are forced into a commitment for the gain of what? Money? Visas? Quiet satisfaction that the child is off the parents' hands? It is an issue which should be free from cultural sensitivity and should be seen as child abuse. Abuse in the way of taking away the rights of a person and coercing them into a pre-planned map of their lives.

Last year, 1,600 cases of forced marriage were reported to the UK government, but less than half of these cases were intervened. It is estimated that there are 5,000 cases each year, but with so many happening behind closed doors, it is impossible to ascertain an exact figure. Something which really creates a sordid perspective of the situation.

The Forced Marriage Unit has uncovered a new guidance scheme into schools urging the schools to identify signs of possible forced marriages ahead of the holidays.
The possibility that some students may not return to school in September for that very reason is the driving force behind this project. The new guidance calls on teachers to play a greater preventative role. Whilst I agree with this, it seems ironic that one minute teachers are told to have purely platonic relations with their students, while the next they are asked to attempt an intervention into a life of wedded bliss, or rather 'un-bliss'. Next we will surely see an aspect of the human rights movement and health and safety regulations, right? The way of the modern world. Full of moral contradictions.

The new regulations are in place to offer a support system for any student involved in such occurrences. An expert told the BBC that there is no culture and no religion whereby forced marriage should be acceptable or indeed is acceptable.

The next time you enjoy the summer sun, the sound of the crashing waves and hear echoes of distant church bells, spare a thought to the young bride or groom who somewhere is saying goodbye to their future with those two simple words.

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