When I first heard the words ‘forced marriage’ I thought this was an extraneous issue in our time, like a myth or a legend, an old tradition practiced in some ancient society. The reality I faced afterwards was far different. Forced marriages are neither fiction nor old. They are real and they are still deeply entrenched in some societies. A forced marriage involves a person being forced into a marriage against their will, usually by their family members, for a various of reasons that can include; control over unwanted sexual behaviour, preventing “unsuitable” relationships, protecting “family honour”, strengthening family links, protecting cultural or religious ideals, economic reasons such as access to property or inability to provide sustenance to children. Some of these factors, like religious factors, are misguided as there are no religions which recognise forced marriage.
In July 2015, forced marriage was recognised by a United Nations resolution as a violation of human rights. Although this is an issue that can affect both men and women, 82% of victims are women, 72% of which under the age of 21 and, what is most shocking, 15% of the cases involve children under 16.
Forced marriage involves in most cases; domestic violence, early pregnancy, rape and sexual assault. In extreme cases of forced marriage it can involve, abductions and ‘honour’ killings. Which we saw to be true in the heart breaking case of Shafelia Ahmed, a 17 year old British girl who was murdered in front of her 4 siblings by her parents.
Furthermore, forced marriage deprives girls and women of education and access to proper job opportunities. Some naïve people think ‘forced marriages only happen in particular countries, but in the UK the problem is bigger than we think. It has been estimated that the Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Indian, Afghanis and Somali community living in the UK are the most affected. The Forced Marriage Unit stated that over 1,267 cases of forced marriage were reported in 2014. Unfortunately, many cases of forced marriage go unreported. Victims are scared to report their parents and family members, meaning that perpetrators of forced marriage will never face consequences and victims will never have justice. In fact, because of its hidden nature, victims of forced marriage are usually isolated and scared to go against their parents’ will with no other options than to live trapped in a marriage they don’t want with a stranger, who is often much older than them.
Many victims rely on the work of grassroots organisations such as ours, JAN Trust, to provide vital support and assistance. In 2011, JAN Trust launched an award winning Against Forced Marriages campaign and we have since worked with over 9,000 members of affected communities, as well as over 8,000 young people and mainstream agencies such as police and health care professionals in order to raise awareness and enable professionals to provide effective assistance to victims.
We are also the only organisation in the UK to work with the perpetrators of forced marriages, successfully changing mind-sets and educating communities to change mind-sets and eradicate forced marriage.
In addition, JAN Trust offers a free and confidential helpline (0800 141 2994) where victims can find support, and share their concerns. JAN Trust has also a website http://againstforcedmarriages.org/ where you can find all the information you need related to the issue.
For more information about our work eradicating forced marriage, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org