What is a Forced Marriage?
A forced marriage is “a marriage that takes place without the full and free consent of both parties”.
It is not the same as an arranged marriage where the families take the lead in selecting a marriage partner but the couple have the free will and choice to accept or refuse to arrangement.
We have all heard and read about the awful cases of honour violence and killings which have taken place over recent years, and sadly which continue to make headlines, cases such as Shafilea Iftikhar Ahmed a 17-year-old British Pakistani from Great Sankey, Warrington, Cheshire, who was murdered by her parents. Shortly before her disappearance Shafilea had travelled to Pakistan where she rejected an arranged marriage partner and had swallowed bleach. Shafilea disappeared on 11 September 2003 and her body was found in February 2004. On the 3 August 2012 Shafilea’s parents were both found guilty of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum term of 25 years. It is believed that they murdered her because of the shame she had brought to the family rejecting the marriage.
It is clearly unacceptable for any person to be forced into marriage, whatever their culture or religious beliefs.
What Protection does the Law offer victims of Forced Marriages?
The Family Law has been extended to enable victims of forced marriages to apply to the Court for a “Forced Marriage Protection Order “(pursuant to the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007), to protect a victim who is facing being forced into a marriage (or who is in a forced marriage). The Court can also impose various restrictions and prohibitions on the Order (i.e. to prevent the victim being taken abroad). Breaching a FMPO is a criminal offence carrying a maximum sentence of 5 years.
The Government has also set out a special Police Unit (“the Forced Marriage Unit (Tel; 020 7008 0151) which has specialist trained Police Officers in honour based violence and forced marriages, this unit operates a public helpline to provide advice and support to victims of forced marriages/honour based violence.
Often victims of honour based violence / forced marriages will need emergency housing (as it is unsafe to return home). There is, across the Country, a network of safe houses “Refuges” which provides emergency accommodation for women and children. For men, the charitable organisation Shelter can assist.
Further, Public Funding (legal aid) is still usually available for Forced Marriage Protection Orders.
Women's Aid (a 24 Hour National Domestic Violence Help Line) also can offer invaluable for support for victims (Tel: 0808 2000 247)
The “Forced Marriages a Survivors Handbook” also contains invaluable help for victims (this can be viewed at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/survivors-handbook.
From the 16th June 2014 section 121 of the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 makes it is a criminal offence to force somebody to marry.
A person commits an offence if he or she:
(a) Uses violence, threats or any other form of coercion for the purpose of causing another person to enter into a marriage, and
(b) believes, or ought reasonably to believe, that the conduct may cause the other person to enter into the marriage without the free and full consent.
There are of course various different methods which somebody can use to force someone into marriage, i.e. threatening violence against the victim or their siblings, using financial, psychological and/or physical abuse.
In addition, a person commits an offence if he or she:
(a) practises any form of deception with the intention of causing another person to leave the United Kingdom, and
(b) intends the other person to be subjected to conduct outside the United Kingdom that is an offence under subsection or would be an offence under that subsection if the victim were in England or Wales.
Therefore if a victim is deceived by their parents / family into leaving the country (i.e. by saying they are going on holiday) with the intention that once out of the court’s jurisdiction family members can do “whatever they want” to the victim and force them into marriage. That is a criminal offence.
Both offences above carry a maximum penalty of twelve months imprisonment on summary conviction or seven years on indictment.
In addition, there are other offences for which parents/family can be prosecuted, to include fear or provocation of violence, threats to kill, common assault, actual or grievous bodily harm, harassment, kidnap, abduction, theft (of passport), false imprisonment and of course murder.
If you feel you need to seek any advice on forced marriage or want more information, please do not hesitate to contact Victoria Poole on 01606 48777 for a confidential discussion.