The wrong way to tackle forced marriages: Porter

Good commentary on how to address forced marriages — not by criminalization but by education, awareness and protection:

Besides being unenforceable (if proving rape is difficult, imagine proving beyond a reasonable doubt that a person knew the bride had not consented), survivors like Sajiha say the bill is potentially harmful.

“Even when I was 10 or 13, I wouldn’t have wanted to put my family in jail,” she said. “My family was my everything.”

That’s a common story among young women who have escaped forced marriages, said Deepa Mattoo, a lawyer with the South Asian Legal Clinic, who works on cases of young women concerned they will be forced into marriage, or struggling to return to Canada, having escaped a forced marriage “back home.”

“Lots of girls I’ve worked with, they don’t want to leave their families,” Mattoo said. “They just want the situation to go away.”

A study Mattoo co-led from 2010-2012 found 219 cases of forced marriage in Ontario over three years. The majority of victims were women between 18 and 34 years old. About half were citizens, while the other half were permanent residents. Most experienced other forms of family violence — threats, physical violence, sexual violence and stalking. Almost half of them were entirely dependent on their families financially.

While the majority were Muslim, many were Hindu, Sikh and Christian.

“The law in Canada creates a narrative that this is a problem about faith and community,” said Farrah Khan, a counsellor with the Barbra Schlifer clinic. “It’s violence. That’s the problem.”

For the past two years, Mattoo and Khan have been training social workers, guidance counsellors, police officers and other service providers across Canada about forced marriage — how to detect it and how to devise safety plans for young women who sense they’ll be victims.

The solution, they say, is public education and a safety net for women fleeing attempted forced marriages.

Money should be put into counselling services, they say.

If any laws are passed, they should be ones that insist shelters accept young women escaping attempted forced marriages (many still don’t, according to both Khan and Mattoo), and social workers bump them to the top of the waiting list for social housing, as women fleeing family violence. (It now depends on the worker, Khan and Mattoo said.)

Those were among the recommendations made at the end of Mattoo’s groundbreaking report.

What was the final recommendation?

“Do not criminalize forced marriage as a separate criminal code offence.”

That would create stigma and push victims underground, it said.

Funny that Alexander didn’t speak to the women he’s busy trying to save.

The Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act has passed through the Senate and two readings in the House of Commons. Alexander expects it to become law later this month, his spokesperson says.

The wrong way to tackle forced marriages: Porter | Toronto Star.