Forced Marriage Legislation “simply a way for the Government to appear that they are tackling an issue”

Forced Marriage Legislation – “simply a way for the Government to appear that they are tackling an issue”

Many of us are lucky enough to have grown up knowing that we would be the ones to choose if we got married and, if we did, who we would marry. But many women and girls don’t have this right.

A forced marriage is one where you have not been allowed to choose who you marry and if you marry. It’s a marriage against your will. You might have faced physical pressure to marry, such as threats, physical or sexual violence, or emotional or psychological pressure. Or you might be made to feel as though you’re bringing shame upon your family.

It’s a problem that’s very real here in the UK. Last year alone, approximately 1,200 possible forced marriage cases were flagged up to the specialist forced marriage unit, with more than a quarter involving victims under the age of 18, and one in five relating to male victims.

But these figures are far from accurate. The fact is, forced marriage is a hidden crime. It’s a crime that doesn’t get reported. In fact, in many cases, it often isn’t even seen as a crime at all. Official figures on forced marriage do not reflect the extent to which forced marriage exists, any statistics quoted are likely to be significantly lower than the true figures.

Whilst forced marriage does appear to have moved up the political agenda over recent years, it isn’t receiving as much attention as it should and legislation certainly isn’t going far enough to address the issue or solve the problem.

Why? Perhaps it’s because many Government officials and people in power still regard forced marriages as a ‘cultural’ issue. Indeed, all too often, police officers and authorities have turned at-risk victims away because they feel that their parents know best or that the case requires nothing more than family mediation.

But forced marriage is not a cultural issue, nor is it a family matter. It’s an example of abuse, and it’s now illegal in the UK.

In 2014, the government introduced the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime, and Policing Act 2014. Under this act, the Forced Marriage (civil Protection) Act 2007 and the Family Law Act 1996 were amended, with Forced Marriage being made a new separate offence. Breaching a Forced Marriage Protection Orders was also criminalised, resulting in a fine, a custodial sentence of up to 5 years, or both.

The offence of Forced Marriage can now also result in custodial sentences of up to 7 years for forcing an individual into marriage, regardless of whether or not there was an FMPO in place.

But is this legislation enough? Is it making a positive difference? Or is it simply a way for the Government to appear that they are tackling an issue, when really they’re doing anything but?

There are certainly significant concerns surrounding the current legislation.

Firstly, the criminalisation of the practice of forced marriage could actually be taking an element of control away from the victims. Prior to the changes in legislation in 2014, the victim had the power to choose what course of action they wanted to take. Under the new legislation, however, the police and the Crown Prosecution Service can decide to go ahead with criminal prosecutions, even if that goes against the victim’s wishes.

What’s more, criminalising forced marriage may be making vulnerable young people less likely to report it, pushing the issue further and further underground. After all, are victims more likely to come forward if they know that doing so could land their own family members in jail? Escaping a forced marriage is a totally different matter to sending your own parents or other family members to jail.

With criminal proceedings, the burden of proof is much higher than within civil jurisdiction, meaning there’s no guarantee that prosecution will even be successful.

Finally, alongside legislation, we need to look more seriously at education and awareness initiatives to prevent forced marriages and encouraging victims to come forward.

Forced Marriage