We conducted a survey in a bustling high street in central London on the 7th July to gauge public opinion on forced marriages and the new law criminalising forced marriages via the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime & Policing Act 2014. 85% of participants had an idea of what a forced marriage was and what it entails. This illustrates there is a general awareness of forced marriage but there is some way to go in educating and raising awareness of the issue as 15% of participants either did not know what a forced marriage was or confused it with an arranged marriage (not forced as coercion is not employed and both parties have given consent). One lady echoed this view by adding “society needs to take more interest in what is happening”.
From speaking to members of the public, it is also evident that a common misconception surrounding forced marriage is that it is enforced by religion. Although some participants did not elaborate on which religions they believe are to blame, overwhelmingly, Islam continued to come up in conversation. For example, after being questioned on the definition of forced marriage, one lady proceeded to ask; “that’s that Muslim thing, isn’t it?” There is clearly a drastic need to change the perceptions of the general public surrounding this particular point as, despite numerous contentions to the contrary; no mainstream religion preaches forced marriage.
Almost 73% of participants were unaware of the new law making forced marriage illegal with around 27% having seen or read it in the media. The new law carries a potential seven year imprisonment term if indicted. One commentator stated “people should have the option and the law does this” whilst others were more sceptical in tone adding “I think really the sentence should be longer than seven years” and that “it is a difficult situation to track, many won’t report to the police as they are hard communities to penetrate”. This demonstrates there is a distinct lack of public confidence in the law and many recognised that without people coming forward enforcement would be nigh on impossible. There was also general consensus that certain communities are quite isolated and as one participant put it quite eloquently “…people in society need to be educated” and “we need to empower men, women and children from early age….if they don’t know the law how will it be enforced”.
We also asked participants whether the new Act criminalising forced marriages would be effective, there were signs of optimism with 40% believing it would be effective in managing forced marriages. However, 60% either stated it would not stop forced marriages and reiterated the danger of the practice going underground or that it may help prevent further forced marriages stating “I hope it will be a deterrent”. There were also concerns voiced by the public that people may go abroad to carry out the marriages, with one participant whose spouse-to-be had been subjected to a forced marriage believing that the chances of the law changing attitudes is “slim…as forced marriages are psychological so children would find it difficult to say no to parents”.
A particularly resonating comment and one to end well with is “we have to do something…maybe the law isn’t enough”. The need for education and empowerment is vital; Jan Trust champions the educating of society and practitioners to this end.
Since the launch of our multi award-winning Against Forced Marriage Campaign in 2011, as well as providing holistic, direct support to victims, we deliver extensive training to statutory and voluntary organisations in order to raise awareness, enable them to recognise potential victims and provide appropriate support. Not only do we work with front-line practitioners, we also carry out workshops with young people, as the most at-risk demographic, within schools and youth groups. Furthermore, we are the only charity in the UK to be working with perpetrators of forced marriage. This is vitally important in order to change mind-sets and penetrate the closed communities where this practice is predominant.
We offer culturally sensitive advice to forced marriage victims, worried friends or relatives and practitioners via our free, confidential helpline. We provide support and guidance in Urdu, Punjabi and English. If you have any concerns, please call 0800 141 2994 between 10.30 and 16.30, Monday and Thursday.