Last updateTue, 07 Apr 2015 11pm

#Barbaric: Forced Marriage in the UK - An insight into an abhorrent practice

A 14-year-old girl is midway through her school exams when she is taken out of school.

Little do her friends know, she has been transported abroad to marry a man she has never met, a man to whom she has been perhaps "promised to" since she was born.

Her friends, possibly, will never see her again.

This may sound like it used to happen in some bygone era, in faraway places, may even be a fiction.

But, in 2015, here in Britain, the forcing of women or girls into marriage is a sad reality for thousands of people.

I have read accounts of some of the victims and also met some recently.  They speak about wedlock being used as a weapon and the horrors to which this can lead, such as rape, abuse and unwanted pregnancies.

Many myths about forced marriage exist.

For example, the assumption that it is confined to only certain religions but there are Sikh, Muslim, Hindu and Christian victims. 

Some think forced marriage in UK is a very rare practice; but the government estimates up to 8,000 cases a year in the UK.

Some assume forced marriage affects only adults but figures show that more than half of victims are under the age of 16 and some are as young as eight.  Some think the victims are solely women but 14% of complainants are actually men.

Child, Early and Forced Marriage (CEFM) are issues which affect women and some men living in the UK as well as millions around the world.

In 2005, the Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) was set up - a collaborative body under the aegis of both the Home Office and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. 

Its' aim is to provide support and advice to victims of Forced Marriage in the UK.

According to 2012 statistics available with FMU, a vast majority of victims were women - 82% compared with 18% men.

More than half of the victims that the FMU dealt with were under 21, with one in eight under the age of 16 – below the legal age of consent for marriage in the UK.

Around a third of the victims were between 18 and 21.  In 2012, the youngest victim was just two years old, and the oldest was 71.

The issue of forced marriage is also made worse by the fact that worldwide, many of the victims are vulnerable people.

Of those who were seen in the UK, 114 of the victims had disabilities, and 22 of the victims identified as LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual or transexual).

In 2013, 97 victims were known to have a disability, and 12 identified as LGBT.

In 2012, the FMU handled cases involving people from 60 different countries while in 2013 this had risen to 74.  These could be nations that victims came from, or places to which victims are at risk of being taken or have already been taken in connection with a forced marriage.

Over 40% of the cases involved Pakistan, with around 10% involving India.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states clearly that ‘Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses’.

Forced marriage is an abuse of Human Rights and it needs to be positioned as  distinct from the cultural practice of an arranged marriage system.

However, when an arranged marriage happens at the level of social expectation, sometimes slippage can take place between arranged and forced marriage in some cases.

It can sometimes be difficult to define a Forced Marriage.

The Home Office defines it as ‘where one or both parties are coerced into a marriage against their will and under duress’.

However, even where there is consent, that consent for a marriage can be embedded in power relations and not a result of an individual’s agency.  This highlights the fact that defining it can be a slippery slope.

According to experts, the key themes that have emerged in the UK based on FM research are that there is a lack of adequate recording of incidents partly due to definitional issues as to what constitutes a ‘case’; lack of professional knowledge base and fear of intervention and most significantly the differences in the conceptualisation of FM: is it purely cultural or is it a part of gender based violence?

Within disciplines such as social work, an important place is given to constructing knowledge by frontline professionals who are on the ‘field’ sometimes and they uncover these marginalised experiences in their home visits to certain clients and/or their families.

There have been several empirical studies in the UK which investigate various aspects of FM.

The media, some women’s organisations, crime policy discourses and the role of the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act (1998) have all played a significant role in protecting victims of FM.

Forced marriage is “a tragedy for each and every victim”, the Home Secretary, Theresa May, said as a new law outlawing the practice came into effect in 2014.

Forcing someone into marriage will carry a maximum seven-year jail term under the 2014 Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act.

Mrs May said she was "proud" of the UK's role as a "world leader" in combating the crime.

Hopefully this can all be put into effect as effectively so that this ugly tragedy can be eradicated one day.

Video courtesy of Essex Police.

Richa Grover's portrait
Richa Grover
Richa Grover is a London based social work professional specializing on issues of child rights, working for the UK Government.

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