In criminalising forced marriage the UK joins a Europe-wide movement
Last Friday the Prime Minister announced that forced marriage is to become a criminal offence. The Government launched a public consultation on this issue in December.
The public overwhelmingly responded in support of stamping out this gross abuse of human rights. The numbers of forced marriage rise every year in Britain.
The Government’s Forced Marriage Unit dealt with 594 cases from January to May this year but it is thought there are over 8,000 forced marriages every year in Britain alone. Concern for victims of forced marriage led to the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007, which provides a specific civil remedy called a Forced Marriage Protection Order (FMPO). FMPOs protect victims from a threatened or actual forced marriage. Only 5 breaches of FMPOs have been recorded since the Act was implemented in 2008 and only one breach resulted in a prison sentence.
Dianna Nammi founder of the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation, a women’s rights charity, explained that “breaches of FMPOs are not monitored or recorded, neither are victims informed of their legal rights when an order is breached”. As a result the Government has also decided that breaches of these orders should become a criminal offence. Tightening up the legal sanctions of FMPOs will provide an additional safety net for victims.
Ultimately victims will be empowered as they will have a choice of obtaining a FMPO and/or pursuing a criminal prosecution. A specific criminal offence of forced marriage is likely to be introduced in 2013. Criminalisation is important to many victims – I discovered this when researching the practise at Cambridge University. All the victims I spoke to agreed that criminalisation will send out a strong public message that forced marriage is socially and legally unacceptable; this in turn will create a change in attitudes and beliefs, much like the law in relation to marital rape.
Changing the law will create a deterrent effect with many perpetrators fearing criminal prosecution. What’s more victims will be able to use the law to as a bargaining chip to negotiate with their parents. Victim’s parents will also be able to use the law to negotiate with their relatives who might be pressurising them to force their child into a marriage.
Contrary to public perception, there is there is no criminal offence for emotional and psychologically forced marriages. Introducing a specific criminal offence will rectify the loophole in current criminal legislation. The criminalisation of forced marriage will make it easier for professionals including the police, teachers and social workers to take action against perpetrators, rather than making use of a patchwork of laws that are not specifically designed to tackle forced marriage.
According to CPS statistics there are over 20 prosecutions every year for a range of offences including kidnap, imprisonment, assault and child sex offences where forced marriage has taken place. A criminal offence of forced marriage will enable perpetrators to be prosecuted for the act of forced marriage itself along with any other offence that takes place.
Alongside criminalisation the Government will provide £500,000 to be divided amongst forced marriage based charities. The Government has also launched a policy support package to tackle the causes and consequences of forced marriage. The aim of the support package is to raise awareness, educate communities, victims and practitioners, tighten up statutory guidance and ensure that victims are prioritised.
Victims who are taken abroad to be forced into marriage will continue to be repatriated to the UK, and when repatriated they will be provided with additional social and financial support as well as having a choice of pursuing a criminal prosecution. It is important to note that a forced marriage criminal offence will enable perpetrators to be prosecuted for forced marriages that take place abroad. Although it remains to be seen whether extradition treaties will be implemented to ensure perpetrators are brought back to the UK to stand trial.
The British government are following in the steps of Norway, Denmark, Germany, Austria, Malta, Belgium and Cyprus, which have already criminalised forced marriage.
Since Denmark criminalised forced marriage in 2008, a Copenhagen-based organisation, LOKK reported an increase in young people coming forward. Other grass root organisations in countries which have criminalised forced marriage have seen a 50% increase in the reporting of forced marriage. In fact a recent questionnaire of over 2,000 people launched by Karma Nirvana, a forced marriage charity, found that 96% believed that forced marriage should become a criminal offence and 71% believed that a criminal offence would not deter victims from reporting such an offence.
Other European counties are also consulting on whether forced marriage should become a criminal offence. After a two year consultation, the Swedish Government announced on 24 May 2012 that they are considering making forced marriage, child marriage and informal marriages which involve child marriages and forced marriages a crime – and they intend to set up a national consultation team, equivalent to our forced marriage unit. I was invited to speak in Parliament in Stockholm on the criminalisation of forced marriage alongside Justice of the Supreme Court, the Equality Minister and Nawal El Sadaawi. Unlike in the UK an overwhelming majority of grass root level organisations responded in full support of the Swedish Government’s plans. The Swedish Government are likely to announce their decision in August 2012.
The British Government has listened and responded to the voices of victims, service providers and practitioners. Criminalisation is important to an overwhelming majority of victims.
For those victims who believe that criminalisation is not important, you will not be compelled to inform the police of the wrong committed against you nor will you be forced to seek legal redress. The choice is yours – but at least you now have a choice.Tagged in: david cameron, forced marriage
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