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Forced Marriage - Soon to be a criminal offence

Written by Carol-Anne. Posted in Blog

Given that changes in the law are imminent in this area and press releases are taking place, this article aims to introduce readers to this important and current issue.

What is Forced Marriage

This is something different from an arranged marriage, where both spouses are involved in discussions and consent to the marriage.

It is a situation where either or sometimes both of the parties to the marriage do not consent, or are unable to consent and some element of duress or force is involved. It does not have to be physical force, although it often is. It can also be sexual, emotional, psychological or financial abuse which creates the element of force. It is a breach of the victim’s human rights.

The UK government believes that there may have been up to 8000 forced marriages in the UK each year. 2013 figures showed that the Forced Marriage Unit helped 1302 possible victims but that is seen as being the tip of the iceberg as many victims do not get the help they need.

What Steps can be taken to help victims

Help is available through major agencies such as the police and social services as well as through the Forced Marriage Unit. Local solicitors can also help victims get the protection and assistance they need. At present Forced Marriage Protection Orders can be obtained through the Court for anyone believed to be at risk of forced marriage. The Court can make orders putting whatever steps are necessary in place in a particular case to prevent this happening.

If a forced marriage has already taken place it could be valid until annulled.

New Law

On 16th June 2014 part of the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 comes into force. This makes forced marriage a crime and those found guilty of forcing it can be sentenced to up to seven years in prison. It also makes breach of a forced marriage protection order a criminal act, which can result in up to five years’ in prison.

West Yorkshire Police along with other agencies are involved in the "Right to Choose" campaign aiming to raise awareness and help prevent forced marriages occurring. Further useful information and contact agency links are available through the following link http://www.westyorkshire.police.uk/forcedmarriage

Who can help and how

Anyone can potentially help a victim. If any professionals such as schools, colleges, doctors or social services are involved in some way with the victim they may be able to spot something that worries them and seek further guidance. The same applies to a friend or neighbour who notes some behaviour or event which is a cause for concern. It is important for anyone suspecting forced marriage to get further professional help and guidance and not to approach the family. Often family will be involved and making them aware of suspicions could serve to increase the speed of their arrangements. The above link gives further information as to sources of help.

Some possible motives for forced marriage

Although condemned by all the world’s main religions some may see this as a means of reinforcing the cultural or religious beliefs of their family and making the family stronger in the community. It may be seen as a way of controlling sexual relations with other people or be related to sexuality issues. Often it is used as a way of preventing westernised behaviour such as dress, drugs, alcohol or having relationships with people from a different ethnicity or religion. Extended family pressure is often the root cause. Sometimes there may be financial gain involved or it may be used as a means to assist an application for citizenship.

How to recognise a possible victim

This can be very difficult as keeping the victim isolated is very common. There may not be many opportunities to spot a cause for concern so acting upon any worry is important. Missing school, college or work or totally disappearing from any social scene they were involved in could be warning signs. Victims are often kept at home, all their money taken from them and cannot go out unescorted so that they are isolated from any help. They may go abroad for a visit and not return, being kept in a country where they do not speak the language, with their passport removed so they feel they have no choice. They will often feel that they cannot go against their own family and may well become depressed and withdrawn, self-harming or suicide attempts may be seen. Cutting or shaving a womans hair for disobedience can occur as can poisoning. Female genital mutilation, which is an offence in the UK (including if someone is taken from the UK for FGM) can be linked to forced marriage.

As well as isolation abuse is often used as a means of control, whether that be physical violence, rape and unwanted pregnancy, or emotional abuse. Many victims see running away as their only chance. Unfortunately in some instances this has led to the family going to great lengths in tracking down and murdering the victim (so called “honour killings”).

Once a forced marriage has taken place, victims are often effectively kept as prisoners in family homes, often being used like servants for extended family. Continued abuse in all forms is highly likely as is rape and unwanted pregnancies. This in turn creates a cycle as children brought up in such an environment may see this behaviour as normality and acceptable and the cycle of abuse may thus continue through future generations.

We hope that this article will have given you a little better understanding of this important issue and increase awareness of the Right to Choose campaign.

For further advice or assistance in relation to such issues or in relation to any family law matter please contact us www.harringtonfamilylaw.co.uk or like us on Facebook for other updates.