FORCED marriage is one of the biggest challenges facing Islamic cultures, a leading expert on the Muslim world has said.

Mona Siddiqui, Professor of Islamic and Interreligious Studies at the University of Edinburgh, believes that those forced to wed against their will should be given the same protections as the victims of people trafficking.

The academic spoke out following the conviction of a woman who duped her teenage daughter into going to Pakistan and forced her to marry a 34-year-old.

She said that the case, in the first successful prosecution of its type, was likely the tip of the iceberg with "thousands" of forced marriages being reported to charities and helplines in the UK each year.


Invited to deliver Radio Four's 'Thought for the Day' segment, Prof Siddiqui said: "It seems to me that marriage remains one of the biggest cultural challenges within many Islamic and other Asian and South Asian cultures.

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"While the virtues of arranged marriages are often extolled as a harmonious, consensual arrangement between families, forced marriages ignore consent and young people find themselves tricked or relenting to family pressures.

"Without mutual consent, there is no marriage, but how that consent is acquired or ignored can be the very root of the problem."

During the trial, the girl told the court of her objections to wedding preparations. But despite her protests, the couple were married in September 2016, just after she had celebrated her 18th birthday.

Jurors heard the complainant recall how she cried to her mother, who continued leading her by the arm to meet her husband-to-be, and then put on her ring.

Forced marriage is not listed as an indicator of modern slavery under the national referral mechanism drawn up by the Home Office, while there is no prosecuting guidance linking forced marriage and slavery crimes.

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Prof Siddiqui said that the issue of forced marriage exposed a tension at the heart of Islam, where cultural and family traditions collided with personal freedoms.

She said: "It seems that the Islamic tradition which recognises and celebrates the power of human desire and the sexual impulse, has nevertheless created communities which today are struggling with that other great need: Human freedom.

"Freedom can be a loaded word, especially when young men and women feel psychologically, emotionally and physically trapped by family and tradition.

"People end up living lives of deception, because they are too afraid to be open about what they themselves want. It's not easy to break such ties, but we should condemn such oppressive and violent practices which deny young people their desire to be, and be free."


Prof Siddiqui added: "There is no love when parental love turns into parental control. Forced marriages are only the symptom of a deeper cultural malaise amongst many families.

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"Concepts of honour and shame are exploited to their full and notions of chastity and modesty, almost exclusively linked to a growing gender segregation, have created their own problems.

"And while both young men and women can suffer the consequences of family control, it is very often women who have to carry the weight of tradition."

The Home Office said the government’s forced marriage unit provided support in almost 1,200 potential cases last year. Since its introduction in 2008, there have been more than 1,500 forced marriage protection orders issued.

A spokeswoman said: “The forced marriage conviction shows that these appalling crimes do not have to be a hidden crime and, with the courage of victims, perpetrators will be prosecuted.