It is June 2014, and only now has forced marriage become a criminal act in England and Wales. It’s way overdue. Forced marriage is an appalling crime against the basic human right to choose who you marry, when you marry, or if you marry at all. Over 80% of forced marriage victims in the UK are women and girls who are essentially being trafficked into slavery. Many of them are subjected to physical, sexual and mental torture. Some are even killed.
Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says that “Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of both parties” and the UN Convention on consent to marriage states that “No marriage can be legally entered into without the consent of both parties.”
The UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women says that “A woman’s right to choose a spouse and enter freely into marriage is central to her life and dignity”. The Convention imposes a duty on the state to take all appropriate measures to stop ill-treatment.
Forcing someone to marry can now carry a jail sentence of up to 7 years. The crime also applies to those who force someone to travel abroad to marry, whether or not the marriage takes place.
Latest figures from the Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) state that each year, they “provide advice or support” in around 1300 possible cases of forced marriage, with many more going unreported. The FMU has been involved in cases in 74 countries, with the highest figures coming from Pakistan, India and Bangladesh.
What can we do?
If you, or somebody you know, are in danger of being forced into an unwanted marriage – do not suffer in silence, do not turn a blind eye. Say something. Get help.
Forced Marriage Unit: 0207 008 0151 9-5pm Monday to Friday. Outside working hours contact the Global Response Centre: 0207 007 1500 Or if you are in immediate danger dial 999. And if you are a concerned friend or neighbour, for heaven’s sake speak up. Forced marriage is a secretive crime and it is happening to someone somewhere right now while you are reading this.
If you are at an airport you can speak to police, airline or security staff. If you are overseas and you have a British passport, call the Forced Marriage Unit on +44 207 008 0151 or +44 207 007 1500, or the British Embassy or High Commission.
The UK Government has issued a booklet which you can download Forced Marriage – A Survivor’s Handbook
The right to choose: spotting the signs of forced marriage.
Forced marriage must stop
The British High Commission in Islamabad has commissioned short animated documentaries on the issue of forced marriages in Pakistan in an attempt to raise awareness of this human rights violation.
Forced marriage is NOT the same as arranged marriage, where families are involved in match-making and both individuals enter into the marriage willingly. (My mother was quite keen to match-make me with the man who is now my husband, and she wasn’t wrong.)