Criminalisation of forced marriages

In June 2014, the UK Government introduced the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime & Policing Act (2014). Part 10 of the Act explains the offence of forced marriage as when a person 'uses violence, threats, or any other form of coercion for the purpose of causing another person to enter into a marriage, and believes, or ought reasonably to believe, that the conduct may cause the other person to enter into the marriage without free and full consent.' It is understandable that if a member of society commits a crime that they ought to be punished. It is hoped that such an approach would seek to act as a deterrent.

Whilst JAN Trust understands why this legislation has been introduced, we believe the law may well exacerbate the sensitive issue of forced marriage. We are concerned that certain ethnic communities may become further alienated and it may lead to a further breakdown of family life and society.

JAN Trust has consulted with over one-thousand grassroots Pakistani women over a period of three years (2008-2011) concerning forced marriage. 85% of women stated that a forced marriage had occurred in their family. However, crucially, 77% stated they would not approach the Police for help if faced with the threat of a forced marriage or if they were in a forced marriage. The women emphasised they did not wish to incriminate relatives or have them subjected to the legal process as this more often than not leads to a complete relationship breakdown with their family and respective communities. This can lead to a higher risk of retaliation acts, as there are perceived to have bought ‘shame’ upon their family and community. Furthermore, there is an increased risk of victims being taken out of the UK to preserve ‘honour’ and to enforce marriages.

JAN Trust believes the criminalisation of forced marriage may increase under reporting. We feel a more communitarian and educative approach rather than the legal route is the way forward. A grassroots methodology focusing on education of affected communities and practitioners as well as meditation between forced marriage victims and families where possible would be a far more prudent course of action. To eradicate and manage the issues surrounding forced marriage, JAN Trust proposes a strategy that centres on dialogue and cooperation with the communities at risk. We support a ground- level up process to help in eradicating forced marriages.

Our report CONSENT MATTERS – Towards effective prevention of forced marriages within the Pakistani community in the UK highlights the key issues and suggests effective prevention of forced marriages.

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