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6 Mar 2003 : Column 1003—continued

Ms Oona King (Bethnal Green and Bow): Tortured.

Miss Kirkbride: "Tortured" is the right word. The young lady was tortured because such practices are considered appropriate in that society and village. I asked Cecily why mothers could allow that to happen to their children and she said, "Because that's what happened to them and that's what they expect to happen." Hence the culture does not change. It is important that women's rights be represented in Parliaments in Kenya and in the other countries in Africa where such practices occur.

Mr. Key: I salute my hon. Friend for her courage in raising that issue. Is she aware that although female genital mutilation is illegal in this country, it is happening to hundreds of children from ethnic minority groups because it is not illegal for their parents to take them abroad to a country where it is legal, have the beastly process carried out and then bring them back to this country? Does she agree that it would be a travesty if any hon. Member were to oppose the private Member's Bill on Friday 21 March, promoted by the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), which would make it illegal for anyone who does that to escape prosecution?

Miss Kirkbride: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing that to my attention. I am shocked that that could occur without the full body of the law being applied. I would welcome any measure to prevent that from happening to children who expect the British law to protect them. However, I should like that protection to be extended across Africa to other children who will be mutilated in that way and whose life chances will be diminished as a result.

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3.20 pm

Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley): I praise the Government, with all my heart, for their determined efforts to tackle domestic violence against women. Much has been said about that, but it is worth repeating because the subject is so important.

Just after the election of the Labour Government, the Home Office published a document, which I think was a White Paper, called "Living Without Fear—an integrated approach to tackling violence against women". It impressed me and showed the direction that the Government intended to take to address the problem of domestic violence. That work is carried out by various Departments: the Home Office, the Foreign Office, the Lord Chancellor's Department and the Solicitor-General's office.

The Lord Chancellor's Department is organising a series of conferences on domestic violence in the Asian community, not because that community experiences more domestic violence than others, but because it is a taboo subject that is not to be talked about in the community.

During the half-term break, I went to the second meeting in Brentford. The first had taken place in Bolton. I spent most of the day there listening to submissions by specialist groups and women. I was impressed by the serious way in which the subject is being addressed. Keighley domestic violence service in my constituency has a specific section to deal with violence against Asian women. The women who help those people are fluent in the various Asian languages and bring them to me for help, which I willingly give. The Brentford meeting coincided with the BBC's excellent "Hitting Home" campaign, which took place over one or two weeks.

At the conference, I met an old acquaintance from Southall Black Sisters who raised one or two difficulties with me. I talked to her about being a member of the Council of Europe, a little-known body—in fact, the best kept secret in Europe. It has 44 member countries and is the parent body of the European convention on human rights. I am a member of its equal opportunities committee and last summer I was asked to produce a report on honour killings in Europe. It was a stressful occupation. However, the report is ready and I shall probably present it next month.

I told the member of Southall Black Sisters about my work on honour killings and she said that people had forgotten about Zoora Shah, but I had not forgotten about her. She came from Bradford and I have an account of her trial and the terrible time that she had. It is written by Southall Black Sisters and begins:

As is the case with many women in the Bradford district, including Keighley, Zoora had been brought to the area as a wife. She already had two daughters when she arrived and subsequently had a son. Shortly after arriving in Bradford, her husband left her without money or any form of support. She was homeless and a man called Mohammed Azam offered her a home, but he expected certain favours in return. He also introduced some of his friends to Zoora and she was expected to have sex with them, too. She had three

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children and it would have been difficult for her to leave because she would have had nowhere to live and no funds. The support from the local Asian community was thin on the ground to say the least.

Eventually, Mohammed Azam started to show an interest in her two daughters who were about 14 and 15. Zoora decided that there was no other remedy but to obtain poison and feed it to him. Over a few days, she poisoned him to death. I would not for one minute suggest that she did the right thing, but she was under a great deal of strain. When she snapped, she did the only thing that she thought she could do to control that man and to stop him doing to her daughters what he had already done to her. In the summary of her case, the organisation, Southall Black Sisters, says:

Although I do not want to draw comparisons, I want to mention a second case, and I hope that hon. Members reach their own conclusions. A young Bradford woman, Tasleem Saddique, was murdered on 15 June 1995 by a young man called Shabir Hussain. Shabir was the husband of Tasleem's sister. In common with many women in Bradford, Tasleem had been taken to Pakistan when she was 16 for the purpose of marriage. She had a problem—I should say, her family had a problem; I do not think she was terribly worried about bringing the man in—her family had a problem in getting entry for the young man whom she had married in Pakistan. I am not quite sure what happened at that time, as Tasleem cannot tell her own story. On her return to the United Kingdom, she was unable to get entry for her husband, and she sought refuge in one of the Asian women's refuges in Bradford.

As I say, I do not know the story behind that. Because of the primary purpose rule, Tasleem was unable to bring her husband in. I am not knocking the primary purpose rule; I am merely relating what happened. Four years on, when she was about 20, she took up with another Asian man in Bradford. Her sister and her family opposed the relationship and felt that she was bringing shame on the family. One morning her brother-in-law—her sister's husband—Shabir Hussain took a car out. As Tasleem was standing at a bus stop waiting for a bus, he knocked her down with the car, and drove forward and reversed over her several times till she was dead.

Shabir Hussain was charged with murder. The case was protracted, but eventually the charge was replaced by a charge of manslaughter. I do not know the case, but I suggest that he could well have used the defence that the balance of his mind was upset due to the fact that the honour of the family had been undermined by the behaviour of Tasleem. He therefore thought that he was doing the right thing by killing her to preserve the honour of the family.

Shabir Hussain was sentenced to three years' imprisonment, but served only 18 months. Zoora Shah is still in prison. I shall not try to draw comparisons, but I hope that I am right in saying that were those two cases to come to court now, perhaps different conclusions would be reached, because there is a different climate.

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Cultural practices and differences, including female genital mutilation, cannot be accepted as an excuse for the violation of the human rights of women.

So that it is not thought that I always go on about Asian women and never speak about white women, I shall mention that a couple of weeks ago, at the time of the enthronement of the new Archbishop of Canterbury on 25 February I submitted an early-day motion entitled "Gender Equality in the Church of England". It states that

Mr. Key: I have only one quarrel with that otherwise excellent early-day motion. I would sign it if it were not for the fact that the Church of England Synod currently has a working party on that very issue. It is the constitutional position that the recommendation should come from the Synod through the Ecclesiastical Committee to the House, which I hope would then approve what the hon. Lady says. I wholly agree with her about the importance of having not only women priests, but women bishops.

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