Forced marriages are marriages where one or both parties to the union have not willingly agreed to participate in the marriage. Although seemingly an old concept, forced marriage is still very much a reality for more than 1000 women and hundreds of men in the UK each year.
Statistics for 2012 suggest that there were nearly 1500 enquiries to the Government’s Forced Marriage Unit, of which over 80% were from women: 13% involved girls below the age of 15, and a further 22% between 16 and 17. Shockingly, the youngest victim of forced marriage was just two years old.
Countries and communities where forced marriage is still prevalent are widespread and include Asian countries such as Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, some African countries, Middle Eastern Countries such as Iraq, Iran and Yemen, and also countries such as Ukraine and Turkey.
Forced marriages often occur against a backdrop of extreme familial pressure, sometimes involving threats of social exclusion or violence. Violence and domestic and child abuse are also not uncommon.
The Government’s Forced Marriage Unit was set up in 2005 to front the Government’s stance against forced marriage. The unit works both in the UK and abroad to help British nationals who may face forced marriage. The FMU operates a public helpline for victims of forced marriage and for those who feel threatened by the prospect of a forced marriage.
Although forced marriage is not a crime in its own right currently, many of the acts that characterise forced marriage, such as violence and threatening behaviour are illegal. The UK Government is committed to criminalising forced marriage across the UK, and section 104 of the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill currently going through Parliament contains provisions for this.
Under the proposed new law, anyone found guilty of an offence of forced marriage would be subject to a summary conviction for a term in prison of up to 12 months, or a conviction on indictment with a maximum prison term of seven years.
The current law permits the use of Forced Marriage Protection Orders, which can protect you from a forced marriage in your own individual circumstances. A breach of a Forced Marriage Protection Order can result in a prison sentence of up to two years. Forced Marriage Protection Orders can be granted in an emergency.
The Forced Marriage Unit is contactable by telephone on (0207) 008 0151, or 24 hours a day on (0207) 008 1500.