This is my third blog in the Harmful Cultural Practice series
Forced Marriage is exactly that; forcing someone to marry against their will. It is appalling practice and is recognised in the UK as a form of violence against women and men, domestic and child abuse, and a serious breach of human rights.
It can involve physical, financial, sexual and emotional abuse, with victims subjected to assault, rape, kidnap and false imprisonment. Many victims are told they’re simply going on a family holiday to visit relatives when in fact a wedding has been planned.
I recently came across this video clip on you tube, which is a stark reminder that girls are still being taken abroad to be forced into marriages against their will.
A young girl desperate for help
This video reminded me of a case that my social workers and I dealt with in 2009 alongside the Police Child Abuse Investigation Team.
One day on my way to a meeting I was approached by a 17-year-old Muslim girl in the social care reception area. She asked if I was a social worker and if I could help.
The girl told me she was scared and looked visibly upset. She had come straight from college to the social care office on the advice of her best friend. She said that her older brother would usually wait for her outside college to escort her home and that if she failed to show up with him she would be in “lots of trouble”. That day the reason she didn’t go home was because she’d been told she was to be married the next week to a 42-year-old man in Pakistan, whom she hardly knew.
This girl luckily followed advice and received the required help and support, which included foster care. There were days while she was in foster care that I recall phone calls with her where she felt torn between missing her family and the fear of being married against her will. She reported confusion between “her own safety and her loyalty to family”.
The Forced Marriages Unit (FMU), run jointly by the Home Office and the Foreign Office, gave advice and support in 1,267 cases of possible forced marriages. The FMU was set up in January 2005 to lead on the government’s work on raising awareness of forced marriage, improving policy and supporting victims in the UK and overseas.
Forced Marriage Protection Order
Key legislation was introduced in June 2014 making forced marriage a criminal offence under UK law. The new criminal legislation also works alongside current civil legislation, which allows victims to choose whether to pursue a criminal or a civil option through a Forced Marriage Protection Order.
These orders can already be given by the civil courts against a person who is suspected of trying to force a person into marriage. The new legislation has increased the maximum penalty for a breach of a forced marriage protection order to five years’ imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine.
Whatever someone’s circumstances, they have rights that should always be respected. Disclosures of forced marriage should not be dismissed as merely a family matter; for many people, seeking help from an agency is a last resort.
By Marisa De Jager