“I will not be a victim for my parents’ honour and reputation. I will not live in shame. I am now free.”
The right to choose who you marry, when you marry and if you marry is a fundamental human right which needs to be safeguarded under all circumstances. Forcing someone to marry is illegal in England and Wales and is a criminal offence that can result in a sentence of up to 7 years in prison. The duty to protect these young girls is well represented by the recent case of a 20 year old woman from Leeds who just about escaped a forced marriage that would have changed the course of her life at such a young age. She was tricked , in her words, by her “monster” parents into going to Bangladesh on what she thought was a holiday to see family and celebrate Eid. Only a week after arrival, the young woman , in “terror and distress” after becoming a victim of violence, threats or coercion managed to contact the police through her boyfriend in the UK. This case confirms the seriousness of the crime and that the people responsible will be prosecuted; her parents were jailed after a three-week trial. As a reaction to this case, Sajid Javid, Home Secretary, said more needed to be done to safeguard all UK citizens from a “despicable, inhumane” and “uncivilised” practice.
In 2017, the Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) provided advice or support related to a possible forced marriage in 1,196 cases. The majority, 77.8%, involved women and 21.4% involved men. Moreover, 10% of the cases had no overseas element, with the potential or actual forced marriage taking place entirely within the UK. A joint report between the Home Office and the Foreign Office emphasised that the above statistics only recorded the cases reported to the unit, stressing that “Forced marriage is a hidden crime, and these figures may not reflect the full scale of the abuse” as some girls are under enormous pressure from their family and community to remain silent and are at a severe risk of retaliation attacks if they do seek help (see our Report Consent Matters).
Unsurprisingly, the Home Office has been accused of not challenging these abusive marriages far enough. After being coerced into marriage, these girls and women’s remaining chance relies on the UK Government preventing their husbands following them back into the UK. Attention must be centered on those who have attempted to block spouses being granted visas as figures released by the Times expose that the Home Office has received 175 inquiries about victims trying to block their spouses’ visa last year, of which only 88 became full cases from which visas were issued in 42 cases. The Home Office needs to do more to assess visa applications to safeguard young vulnerable adults as this is unacceptable and leads to these women’s and girl’s lives being placed at risk
This human rights abuse is at the heart of JAN Trust’s award winning Against Forced Marriage campaign launched in 2011 which has contributed in raising awareness and has undertaken preventative work around this issue. JAN Trust recommends a dialogue at the grassroots about forced marriages in order to combat forced marriage within communities in the UK. The need to deconstruct those cultural and religious myths around this issue must be undertaken seriously, making sure it does not impede the government from taking a firm stance, especially when flagged in visa applications. Please reach out if you fear for yourself or for a relative to the Forced Marriage Unit: 020 7008 0151.