Today’s blog looks at forced marriage – what it is and the legislation relating to it in the UK.
Anyone working in professions where they are required to safeguard others should be aware that forced marriage is illegal in the UK, under the Forced Marriage Act 2014. Those found guilty under the Act can face up to seven years’ imprisonment.
What’s the definition of forced marriage?
According to the Gov.UK website, a forced marriage is when “one or both people do not (or in cases of people with learning disabilities, cannot) consent to the marriage and pressure or abuse is used”.
The pressure or abuse might be physical, emotional, sexual or financial.
How is forced marriage different from an arranged marriage?
An arranged marriage is when both parties are introduced to each other and consent freely to the marriage, without any duress or coercion being used.
If someone has agreed to an arranged marriage and then changes their mind but is forced to go ahead, it becomes a forced marriage.
Who can be affected?
The organisation Karma Nirvana is an award-winning British Human Rights Charity supporting victims of honour based abuse and forced marriage. It monitors cases and offers support to victims.
Karma Nirvana says that women and men can be subjected to forced marriage; some cases involve children under 10; often they involve those who identify as LGBT. Reports of forced marriage are most common from those in the Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Orthodox Jewish and (occasionally) traveller communities.
Statistics on forced marriage can be found on the Karma Nirvana website (www.karmanirvana.org.uk/useful-resources/karma-nirvana-statistics); in 2015 the three regions the organisation received most calls from were 1. London, 2. West Midlands and 3. West Yorkshire.
What are the signs that someone is at risk?
West Yorkshire Police has dedicated safeguarding officers responsible for dealing with cases of forced marriage. Its website (www.westyorkshire.police.uk) lists a range of signs that might indicated that someone is at risk:
- Domestic abuse or rape
- Depression, or becoming worried or withdrawn
- Poor performance at work, school or college or often being absent
- No control over their own money
- A surprise engagement to an apparent stranger
- They may not come back from a visit to another country
- Early or unwanted pregnancy
What can you do if you or someone you know is at risk?
Contact your local police force (emergencies: 999; non-emergencies: 101), or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 – the call can be anonymous and will be dealt with in confidence.
The Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) can be contacted on 020 7008 0151 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Karma Nirvana can be contacted for advice and support on 0800 5999 247 or visit www.karmanirvana.org.uk.
Contact the nearest British Consulate, Embassy or High Commission, who will get in contact with the FMU, which covers British citizens abroad as well as in the UK. Those abroad can be offered help to get home.
When a forced marriage is reported, a Forced Marriage Protection Order is issued – breaching the terms is a criminal offence.
What are the challenges to preventing forced marriage?
Karma Nirvana lists the challenges as:
- communities condoning this abuse
- victims being deterred from seeking help
- professionals believing this abuse is “cultural”
- people not recognising this abuse happens in the UK
- schools not wishing to engage and help raise awareness etc
What else can those responsible for safeguarding do?
Karma Nirvana offers training to professionals and encourages schools to engage with the issue and be aware of the support available for those at risk.
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