Modern Slavery Bill

Written evidence submitted by the Al-Khoei Foundation (MS 32)

Background

1. Al-Khoei Foundation is a registered charity which runs Islamic centres, schools and universities, lobbies governments to protect the rights of the Muslim communities. It acts as an advisor with regards to religious matters, publishes books and magazines, organises various educational and spiritual programmes for the communities and the youth, sponsors and takes part in both inter-faith and intra-faith conferences and caters for the religious and spiritual needs of the Muslim and non-Muslim prisoners in different countries. The Foundation is also the only Shi'a-Muslim organisation that holds a General Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) at the UN.

Summary

2. This paper sets out the views and opinions of Al-Khoei Foundation with regards to the Modern Slavery Bill. We feel it is important that faith leaders and those working with faith communities offer their experiences and facilitate the voice of the communities they serve to be heard. This submission will focus on two amendments; clause 3 and 35. These amendments are related to role of faith communities in tackling the issue, the practices of FGM and forced marriage.

Introduction

3. Islam was born in an era when slavery was both rife and universally accepted in both pre-Islamic Arabia and the wider Mediterranean world. It is clear that both the Quran and the practices of the Prophet considered slavery as an immoral act and worked towards the gradual elimination of slavery. The practice of slavery was inconsistent with the Quranic morality that preaches equality of men and women; "O people, we created you from the same male and female, and rendered you distinct people and tribes, that you may recognize one another. The best among you in the sight of God is the most righteous" [49:13]. Prophet Muhammed encouraged Muslims to free slaves, even if one had to purchase them first. He personally freed 63 slaves and his household and companions freed 39,237 slaves in total.

4. The Quran urges for slaves to be freed. Chapter 90 of the Quran, verse 13 states that the act of freeing a slave is a virtuous act that will make the person ‘a Companion of the Right’, one of the blessed people in the hereafter .

5. In 1990 The Organisation of the Islamic Conference, consisting of 57 member states that states "it is the voice of the Muslim world," adopted the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam. Article 11 clearly states that:

"human beings are born free and no one has the right to enslave, humiliate, oppress or exploit them and there can be no subjugation but to God the Most High".

6. This clearly provides a clear and strong message about the position of Islam in terms of slavery both historically and in the modern world. It is a resource, among many that can be used in the fight against modern day slavery and oppression of any kind.

Amendment to the Modern Slavery Bill

7. Al-Khoei Foundation proposes the following amendments:

First Amendment:

8. Additional amendment to Part 1 Clause 3 of the bill, to include Forced Marriage and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) as part of 'Meaning of Exploitation'. This could be done either by having a separate subsection to Clause 3 or have:

1- Forced Marriage under 'Sexual Exploitation' or,

2- FGM under 'Removal of Organs'.

Forced Marriage

9. A forced marriage is a marriage whereby one or both parties are forced into or have not given their consent to. It is also when consent has been obtained though coercion, emotional pressure or physical abuse. Forced marriage happens in many communities regardless of ethnicity, faith or economic status. Although it happens to both men and women, overwhelmingly the majority of cases women and girls are victims and in the context of trafficking this can be seen as a gendered crime and therefore the appropriate responses must be employed when dealing with the issue.

10. Currently, the issue of forced marriage is rarely understood in the context of trafficking or domestic servitude. In many cases, women are forced into marriage either as citizens of this country or as foreign nationals who have entered the UK through a trafficker or organised crime. Forced marriage is likely to be committed amongst a host of other violations and crimes such as rape, abduction, unlawful imprisonment and mental abuse.

11. With regards to the Islamic perspective on forced marriage, all schools of thought in Islam are in agreement as to the invalidity of forced marriage. Consent is integral to the legality of marriage and if it is absent the marriage cannot take place. Despite this, forced marriage does take place in the UK and is committed in the name of Islam. The actual figure of how many marriages are forced is not known as many of the victims do not seek help or report to the police. This is often due to shame, isolation, fear of retribution and an inability to physically seek help. This occurs as a result of imprisonment whilst having important documents such as a passport confiscated, as well as cash and credit cards. This leaves the victim feeling dependent on the trafficker.

Female Genital Mutilation

12. FGM is a ritual of removing some or all of the external female genitalia. Initially, the practice originates from the continent of Africa. According to UNICEF, over 29 different countries perform this act and over 125 million girls and women have had it. It is usually performed to girls aged from a few days old, all the way to puberty. Unfortunately, the practise of FGM was brought into the UK. According to the NHS, over 20,000 girls under the age of 15 are at the risk of female genital mutilation each year in the UK (2014). Girls are forced to suffer FGM leaving them with serious immediate effects, long-term consequences and psychological problems.

Given that FGM is "hidden" in nature just as many other forms of exploitation, it is crucial that this topic is included in the meaning of exploitation so that it is tackled like other forms of slavery.

Second Amendment:

13. Clause 35 sub subclause 2e should be amended to:

'Consulting specific group of individuals including members of the faith community'.

14. Faith communities play a big role when it comes to legislation because it is often linked to certain faiths. Historically slavery has often been discussed in the context of faith and often people mistakenly attribute these two together. For instance, FGM is sometimes perceived to be a problem related to the Islamic or Christian faith when it is purely a negative aspect of the African culture and it is seen to be practiced in the UK. Furthermore, in the last decade there has been a growth in the number of faith organisations, projects and initiatives that have come together to enable understanding, resolve conflict and work together on a variety of issues from combating poverty, climate change, working with the homeless, prisoners and engaging disenfranchised youth. Hence faith plays a major role in solving such issues, including modern slavery and FGM.

15. Al-Khoei Foundation has already been working with a forum of diverse faith leaders in the UK, headed by the Church of England, to discuss and explore avenues of interfaith cooperation on realising the aims and aspirations of the Modern Slavery Bill. Al-Khoei Foundation firmly believes that coordinated engagement with faith groups can positively serve the cause of eradicating slavery in all its forms and by reaching as many sections of society as possible to raise awareness, aid in prevention and assistance in supporting victims and bringing perpetrators to justice. Therefore, it is important for the post of the Anti-Slavery Commissioner to engage fully and widely with faith communities.

October 2014

Prepared 15th October 2014