A document highlighting the prevalence of forced marriage in the ultra-orthodox community has been presented to the British government today.
The paper, written by Nahamu, an organisation aiming to combat extremism in the Jewish community, in collaboration with the National Commission of Forced Marriage UK, is based on the testimony of dozens of women and some men from the Chasidic community and argues that many arranged marriages are in violation of British law.
It’s co-author, Yehudis Fletcher, told Jewish News that the paper really examines “what the systemic issues are that run through our community and put people at risk to forced marriage.
Whereas previously, she says that there has been “quite a stereotypical view on who is likely to encounter forced marriage, we are arguing that it cuts across class and happens in every community. There is nothing to be ashamed of, it’s happens everywhere. The shame is in absolutely denying it and refusing to tackle it.”
Some issues that need tackling, argues the paper, is the fact that though “many Chassidic arranged marriages fall within the definition of forced marriage under UK law, the context of how Chassidic youth are raised means that most comply and go along with a marriage to a stranger they have only met once or twice.”
Fletcher, who appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour today, told presenter Emma Barnett that forced marriage does not necessarily mean violence.
“The guidance to the legislation includes emotional and psychological pressure. Whilst there can be a spectrum of different kinds of pressure, when it comes to forced marriage in this paper, we are primarily talking about emotional and psychological pressure.”
The report says that “Whilst the arranged marriages are rarely forced though violence, survivors have reported a level of social coercion which arises from their insular upbringing….Children are primed from early childhood that all matches are arranged by parents….their outlook and education is severely limited such that Charedi schools redact any material that is not consistent with the Charedi world views.”
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For fletcher, this is one area that needs serious consideration. In the document, Nahamu have recommended that the government “ensure that education around forced marriage to be included in the mandatory SRE.”
Fletcher told Jewish News that “the Department for Education has got to do more to keep Jewish children safe We are citizens of this country, but there seems to be a lower threshold for safeguarding in our community. Why do we not deserve to be safe?”
Though she says, she is “not here to tell individual citizens what to think and what to believe, I can hold the authorities to account. Why are they applying lower standards to our community than they are applying to others?”
Nahamu also propose Criminal prosecutions for those conducting religious only ceremonies, particularly for children under 18 years old. In the Chasidic community, most couples are between the ages of 17 – 19 when their marriage is arranged.
However, Chaya Spitz, CEO of strictly orthodox charity Interlink, told Woman’s Hour that “forced marriage is a complete alien concept in Judaism. Consent and marrying of one’s free choice are absolutely fundamental principles Consent was required by Jewish law centuries before the concept of forced marriage or marital rape or coercive control made their way into British law.”
But divorced mother of ten, Beatrice Webber, who was married to a strictly orthodox man in the USA told the programme that “the issue of consent is almost non-existent and was non-existent for many, many years for me.”
Yet despite the contestations, Yehudis Fletcher believes that the report, which she says will be “kept under constant review” will help to “completely Moved the conversation forward for the sector.”
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