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12.02.2020

Forced Marriage: Everyone has the right to choose who they marry

In Birmingham, UK in 2018, a mother was sentenced to four and a half years imprisonment for forcing her daughter to marry a 34 year old Pakistani man who had got her pregnant when she was 13 years old. Four years after the pregnancy, aged 17, she was married. Her mother threatened to tear up her passport if she did not marry. The victim said she cried throughout the ceremony. The victim described herself as an “object that could be moved from place to place”. 

What is it? 

Forced marriage is a form of modern slavery. It occurs when one or both people do not freely consent to the marriage, and victims are subjected to pressure, abuse or coercion. There are more than 3,500 reports of forced marriage in the UK: it is a crime however only 1 in 30 are prosecuted. Karma Nirvana, a UK charity supporting victims of honour-based abuse and forced marriage, run a helpline for those who need support. Ameera Jamil, a senior call handler said “Victims are reluctant to go to police for fear they won’t be believed.” 

It is important to note that forced marriage is different to arranged marriages which are a common practice all over the world. 

Who it effects? 

There are 15 million people in forced marriages today, but these estimates should be considered conservative as it is very hard to measure. Most victims are young women between the ages of 14 – 25.  Among child victims, 44 per cent were forced to marry before the age of 15 years. The youngest recorded victims of forced marriage were nine years of age at the time they were forced to marry.  

Forced marriage is not a result of religious factors as no major religion advocates it.

It is a global issue that crosses ethnicity and borders. 90 per cent of all forced marriages take place in Africa and Asia and the Pacific, these cultures are the most vulnerable.  

Why it happens? 

There are many reasons for forced marriage, unfortunately it is most commonly facilitated by family members. It is often used to preserve wealth inside the family or strengthen family connections. It is also used to control sexuality or unwanted relationships, to uphold cultural and religious ideals, to procure legal documentation and citizenship or to care for disabled family members to avoid stigma. Chastity and honour within the community is often a significant factor: in some cases, someone who has experienced rape is forced to marry her rapist to protect her reputation.  

Another victim, from the north of England, was betrayed by her family and forced to marry her husband who raped her daily. They met a day before the wedding when she was just 16. As a child she was taken to Somalia where she has the most invasive form of female genital mutilation. She later confided that on her wedding night, her husband cut her open with a knife so he could consummate their marriage.  

The signs of forced marriage 

UK charity Refuge say that you could be a victim of forced marriage if: 

  • You did not say ‘yes’ to getting married 
  • You were not consulted or aware that you were getting married 
  • Your family or extended family used emotional pressure and/or physical violence to make you agree to a marriage 
  • You have been forced to stay in confinement and have not been allowed to discuss your marriage with anyone 

They also say a person could be at risk of forced marriage if: 

  • Your family is arranging your marriage without your approval 
  • Your official papers or passport have been taken away 
  • You are being taken abroad and you are not sure why 
  • You have been told you must leave education against your will 

The wider community can also learn how to spot the signs of forced marriage. The Runaway Helpline organisation list the following signs people can look out for who might be concerned that someone they know is going to be forced into marriage.  

Common signs include: 

  • They become very withdrawn and down; 
  • They stop spending time with their friends and won’t answer their calls or texts; 
  • The person is being bruised or injured where the family has used violence to try and pressure them into the marriage 
  • They suddenly get taken out of school or goes on a long holiday. 

Help, advice and support 

Forced Marriage Unit  |  020 7008 0151  |  www.fco.gov.uk (Enter Forced Marriages into search bar at top of site)

The Modern Slavery Helpline   |  0800 0121 700  

National Domestic Abuse Helpline (Refuge)  |  0808 2000 247  

Karma Nivarna  |  0800 5999 247 

Runaway Helpline  |  116 000  

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