Disabled Asians in Britain being forced into marriages

July 28th, 2008 - 2:58 pm ICT by IANS  

London, July 28 (IANS) British authorities have revealed a trend among Asian families here to offload wards with disabilities by forcing them into marriages. Youths with learning or mental difficulties are considered a burden and a stigma and they are married off to people who may use the opportunity to enter Britain as spouses.

The Independent reported that more than one in five of the forced marriages reported to the government involve disabled people, but experts fear that the true scale of the problem could be far worse.

The Foreign Office’s Forced Marriage Unit dealt with 400 cases last year - and more than 80 of these involved people with learning disabilities.

Police officers, lawyers and support group workers are at present in talks on how to address the problem.

Support groups are warning that forced marriage is being used as a way to ensure that children with disabilities will be looked after as ageing parents struggle to cope. A person with learning disabilities may also be seen as biddable by foreigners in search of a visa.

The majority of cases reported involve families from Pakistan, Bangladesh and India. Spouses are not always told about the disability and only discover the truth when they first meet, often at the wedding, or even after.

Rape, domestic violence and abandonment are common consequences of such marriages as opportunities to escape or seek help can be limited, according to support groups.

Mandy Sanghera, who works for Voice UK, a charity which deals with disabled children, gives the example of such a girl, Rani. Her mother agreed to marry her off to an Indian who was looking for a British passport.

Sanghera later found that upon his arrival, the husband started beating and abusing her, resulting in a miscarriage. He was also pinching her benefits and sending the money back home. The mother, when told about this, refused to take action and instead pressured her daughter to stay on with her husband as it was a matter of family honour.

Teertha Gupta, a barrister who specialises in forced marriages, believes most families are just trying to do their best for their children. He says: “These are generally families from law-abiding communities who think this very old fashioned and illegal practice is their only choice.”

According to Saghir Alam, of Equality 2025, the government’s disability advisory body, social services must become more culturally sensitive so parents do not feel that marriage is the only long-term care option.

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