Tackling forced marriage
In 2014, the Government introduced legislation that criminalised forced marriage under the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014. The law stipulates that anyone ‘forcing someone to marry can result in a sentence of up to 7 years in prison’ and that ‘disobeying a Forced Marriage Protection Order can result in a sentence of up to 5 years in prison.’ However, despite this legislation forced marriages in the UK continue to take place. Figures released by the Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) for 2015 revealed that advice or support relating to a possible forced marriage was given in 1,220 cases and that 22% of all referrals were made in London. It is important to note that 80% of the advice and support given was to professionals or friends or family and that forced marriage remains underreported by victims themselves. In the UK, the practice is prevalent amongst the South Asian community namely the Pakistani community but it is also practiced by Somali and Afghan communities.
According to The Times of India, there have even been cases of Asian girls in the UK, as young as 11, being forced to marry men living abroad via the Internet. One of these cases involved a young girl from London being married to a 25-year-old man from Bangladesh on Skype. Since forced marriage was criminalised in 2014 there has been only one conviction and this did not involve a child.
One of the reasons given for why the practice of forced marriage in the UK persists is because of the reluctance of authorities such as the Police to get involved with such cases. This is for fear of being called racist and/or interfering in cultures which they have little knowledge about. In a recent article, in the Evening Standard, Commander Mac Chishty, Britain’s most senior Muslim police chief appealed to the Muslim community when he said:
“It’s not about disrespecting any culture – I myself am from a Muslim Pakistani background – but this is about a human being, their human values, their human rights and us being able to protect them.”
Authorities should work closely with those organisations that have the knowledge, experience and expertise to deal with this issue. In addition, if the authorities genuinely want to tackle forced marriage then they need to begin by building relationships with the affected communities in order to be able to engage with them about this issue. Most importantly, organisations such as JAN Trust who work with community faith leaders who condemn this inhumane practice must be supported. Their work is hugely important as it focuses on challenging and changing mind-sets.
Recently, JAN Trust received a call from a woman who asked for help for a friend who she believed is at risk of an imminent forced marriage in Bangladesh. The woman, herself a victim of a forced marriage, was particularly concerned that the policeman assigned to investigate her friends case lacked an understanding of the cultural and religious issues faced by her friend and that he didn’t seem sure what action was appropriate to take. The policeman himself admitted he’d never dealt with a case of forced marriage before and asked the woman how she knew her friend was at risk. As a result, the woman requested JAN Trust to intervene saying “You understand better.”
In 2011, JAN Trust launched its Against Forced Marriages campaign to not only raise awareness of this issue but also to tackle it at grassroots level. JAN Trust has a unique position in that it already has a relationship with the affected communities as well as the cultural and religious knowledge to approach this highly sensitive issue. It also has extensive experience of dealing with cases of forced marriage since it was formed in 1989.
One of the ways in which the campaign seeks to create change is by educating young people about forced marriages so that they are empowered with the knowledge to understand what it is and where they can seek help for themselves or their peers.
As part of our campaign to raise awareness about this issue we conduct talks in schools, voluntary organisations, statutory agencies and community groups. In schools, the priority is to help both students and teachers detect cases of forced marriage, and know where to seek help.
We also provide training for practitioners including health professionals, social workers and the police in order to raise awareness about the practice, the law surrounding forced marriage as well as options and help available for victims.
If you would like to book a seminar for your students, staff or team then please send an e-mail to: [email protected].
We rely on your support to help us break the silence surrounding forced marriages of women and girls across the UK. Slowly, activists and organisations across the region are beginning to have success in encouraging authorities to take more effective action; but there is still a long way to go.
Join the campaign to make your voice heard and raise awareness of this issue. By signing the petition, you will show your support for combating forced marriages, and you will be influencing policy make.