Forced marriage in the news
Forced marriage hit the headlines recently when an investigation by the Times revealed British victims of forced marriages overseas were required to repay the costs of their repatriation. Such was the public outrage that Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt announced a change of policy:
“I have decided the victims of forced marriage who are helped to return to the UK by the Foreign Office forced marriage repatriation unit will no longer be asked to take out a loan for their repatriation costs.”
He went on to say that the aim will be to ensure that the costs are borne by the perpetrators and not the victims.
A criminal offence
Forced marriage became a specific criminal offence in 2014, carrying a maximum penalty of seven years imprisonment. ‘Force’ encompasses physical and psychological threats, emotional, financial and sexual abuse, including being held unlawfully captive, assaulted and raped. According to statistics, the Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) dealt with 1,196 cases in 2018.
Interestingly, since the law came into force, there have been few convictions. Recently, in May 2018, a mother was jailed for four and a half years after taking her seventeen-year-old daughter to Pakistan and forcing her to marry a man twice her age.
The FMU saw 1,200 cases reported during 2017, but the true number of victims is estimated to be between 5,000 and 8,000. Part of the issue is awareness; according to a recent BBC news article, the vast majority of women aren’t aware forced marriage is illegal.
Family issues are also a major factor. However, the perpetrators are often members of the victim’s own family, who may use manipulative tactics to coerce victims into supposed ‘holidays’ abroad, only for them to find that a wedding has been prearranged.
Commonly, there are multiple family members and friends of family involved, making it hard for victims to seek help for fear of retribution; equally, victims may be very young and impressionable and may not wish to prosecute parents, who they still love, and see them face a prison sentence.
Prevention – Forced Marriage Protection Orders
One of the measures for prevention is the use of Forced Marriage Protection Orders (FMPOs). These can be made in a civil court against any individual suspected of trying to force a victim into marriage. A breach of an FMPO is a criminal offence with a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment. FMPOs can demand the confiscation of passports, the prevention of trips abroad and/or require relatives to cease intimidation of or violence against the victim.
According to statistics from the Ministry of Justice, the number of applications for FMPOs is still small, although there is an upward trend since their introduction. The majority of victims are very young; of the 278 FMPO applications in 2017, 68% were from applicants aged 17 and under.
It doesn’t just affect women
According to the FMU, some 15% of identified victims are male. A spokesperson from the charity Karma Nirvana, that helps forced marriage victims, said,
“Men from minority communities find it very difficult to speak out about abuse…We’ve spoken to some men who are gay and have been forced into a marriage that they do not want.”
Sensitivity, confidentiality and speed, however, are essential when dealing with forced marriage cases. If you are in a forced marriage, or trying to prevent one, contact one of our supportive team in London (West Drayton) on 01895 449288 or in Hertfordshire (St Albans) on 01727 840900, or by email via our contact page.