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Forced marriage

Forced marriage

Schools will soon be out, and the long summer break is the time when many girls will fly, unsuspecting, to Africa, the Middle East and parts of the Far East, ostensibly for a holiday, but in fact to be forcibly married.

A forced marriage is described as one in which one or both spouses do not consent to the marriage but are coerced into it by physical, psychological, financial, sexual or emotional pressure. The pressure put on people to marry against their will can be physical (including threats, actual physical violence and sexual violence) or emotional and psychological (for example, when someone is made to feel like they’re bringing shame on their family). Financial abuse (taking your wages or not giving you any money) can also be a factor.

The Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) is a joint Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Home Office unit which was set up in January 2005 to lead on the Government’s forced marriage policy, outreach and casework. It operates both inside the UK, where support is provided to any individual, and overseas, where consular assistance is provided to British nationals, including dual nationals.

Last year, the FMU dealt with 1,302 cases. Some 82% of victims were female and 18% male while 15% were under the age of 15. The cases involved 74 different countries with 43% relating to Pakistan, 11% to India and 10% to Bangladesh.

The NSPCC said children as young as 12 were calling ChildLine about forced marriage, with the number contacting them up two-thirds in the past year. Dr Ash Chand, the charity’s strategy head for minority ethnic children, described the law change as “a huge step forward, which we hope will deter those plotting against their own children.” He added: “Many young people who call our ChildLine service about this issue are frightened, concerned and feel control of their lives is being wrenched from them.”

Now at long last this vile practice has been criminalised. From Monday, forcing someone into marriage in England and Wales will carry a maximum seven-year jail sentence under the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, ss120-122. The law change also criminalises forcing a British national into marriage outside the UK.

Since 2008, courts have been able to issue civil orders to prevent victims being forced into marriage. Under the new law, breaching a forced marriage protection order has also been criminalised. It now carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

Freedom founder Aneeta Prem welcomed the new legislation. She said: “In the most tragic cases, people forced into marriage become domestic slaves by day and sexual slaves by night. Today’s announcement sends out a powerful message that this indefensible abuse of human rights will be not be tolerated. Everyone should have the freedom to choose.”

Home secretary Theresa May said she was proud of the UK’s role as a world leader in combating the crime, saying: “Forced marriage is a tragedy for each and every victim, and its very nature means that many cases go unreported. Today’s criminalisation is a further move by this government to ensure victims are protected by the law and that they have the confidence, safety and the freedom to choose…This summer, the prime minister will also be hosting the UK’s first summit dedicated to galvanising action against forced marriage and related issues.”

This post was written by:

- who has written 462 posts on Upper Case – The Anya Legal Journal.

Mike Gribbin is a retired Civil Servant with wide experience, including the drafting and implementation of Parliamentary legislation and regulations. He is the editor of “Criminal Offences Handbook”, a uniquely comprehensive guide to more than one thousand ways to fall foul of UK criminal law. He is Editor of the Upper Case Legal Journal and has been writing blog posts for the past eight years.

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