Dr Alan Billings was a speaker at a conference on forced marriage on Monday, 24 April, organised by the Pakistan Muslim Centre, Woodbourn Road, the Federation of Mosque Chairs and the Muslim Women’s Network (MWN).

Other speakers included Muhammad Ali, Chair of the Pakistani Muslim Centre, Hafiz Saleem, Shahin Ashraf MBE, project manager from the Muslim Women’s Network and Imam Muhammad Ismail.

This was an awareness raising conference aimed at deepening the understanding of what forced marriages were and changing attitudes towards the practice.

Dr Billings said: “The organisers of this event are to be congratulated for tackling an important but controversial issue within some of our minority ethnic communities.

“We need to make a distinction between an arranged marriage – where families might introduce young people to one another – and a forced marriage – where someone is or feels compelled to marry another. The law is clear: a marriage must be with the free consent of both parties.

“Forced marriages may be the result of physical force or emotional blackmail. Emotions are manipulated if it is suggested that someone must marry for the sake of family honour or to avoid shame. Enabling a forced marriage is illegal and the police would take action if instances were brought to their attention.

“I am not a Muslim and do not read the Quran in Arabic, but in the English version I do read, especially in Sura 4, it seems clear to me that it rejected the prevailing attitudes of the time, where women could be bought and sold like objects, and gave them a new dignity with the right to contract a marriage and property rights.”