Honor Killings and Women’s Rights

honor killings and forced marriagesHonor Killings and the Rights of women

I was asked by a friend to write something about this issue.  We have all heard the stories; honor killings and attempted honor killings are on the rise in western countries. Cultural practices being brought over by immigrant groups. And no, this isn’t just a problem with Islam, though those are often the most high profile cases of late. The UN Population Fund estimates that 5,000 women are killed annual in the name of honor.

Unfortunately, this problem is linked to that of forced child marriage. In England 100s of girls go missing every year, sent “home” to get married to men they don’t know. If they resist, they are beaten and sometimes killed.  There are support groups across Europe designed to help young girls escape this fate, most notably in England, where hundreds of school girls disappear every year because their families take them out of the country to marry them to complete strangers.

Obviously, western countries view forced marriages as a human rights abuse, and this is certainly the official position of the United States government that has issued guidelines to embassy workers (http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/86822.pdf ) on how to assist young women who are being subjected to a forced marriage.

But aside from the state department, no other government or local US agencies appears to be concerned with this problem. In fact, it wasn’t until 2009 that the Seventh Circuit court even ruled that the threat of a forced marriage was even grounds for seeking asylum in the USA. (see: http://humanrightsusa.blogspot.com/2009/09/seventh-circuit-rules-threat-of-forced_04.html)

While we may not be able to do anything about forced marriages taking place in countries around the world, we can do something to help protect US citizens from being subjected to this sort of treatment. And yes, that does mean that children born to immigrants, who are US Citizens deserve our protection.

There are several things that would help. UNESCO advocates for all countries to raise the minimum age for consent to marriage to the age of 18. If we support this, it will help provide legal protection for girls who are taken on “vacation” only to find out they are being forced into a marriage.

Closer to home, we can and should be creating support groups for girls who need help. Right now, these girls are subject to domestic laws that are inadequate to protect them and often place the girls in jeopardy by placing girls who run away back into the hands of their parents. That is because these cases are tricky and as we learned from the Rifqa Barry case, involve a he said she said scenario which inevitably favors the parents.

Online support groups for people in the US who are seeking to leave Islam are starting to form. They offer advice on how to leave safely and to provide safe houses to girls seeking a safe place to go to, instead of just running away. Unfortunately from a Humanist perspective, many of these groups are actually Christian and are being run to help convert Muslims to Christianity.

The only Humanist related support group is the Institution for the Secularization of Islamic Society (http://www.centerforinquiry.net/isis), which seeks to secularize Islamic society so that these issues are no longer a problem. And like all Humanist related activities, it is largely an academic affair offering no real assistance to individuals in immediate need.

What is needed is a campaign to raise awareness that young Americans from immigrant families have the right to freedom of belief and to be free to reject marriage. Unless people know they have rights, they are not able to insist on them. They need to know that the state department can assist them and connect them to the necessary support groups if they are being threatened with a forced marriage. In fact, the state department can help them even if they are still on US soil.

We also need to figure out a way to provide support to individuals seeking to escape from oppressive religious or cultural beliefs. Support that is not contingent on them adopting a new religion in place of the old one. We should not be leaving this important work to anti-Islamic religious groups.

So, yeah – consider this a call for Humanists to get involved with this issue and to support legislation that strengthens the rights of children, and for areas where there are large immigrant communities where these sorts of problems are more likely to occur, that they actively consider getting involved to assist these young people in their time of need.