A new law criminalising forced marriages is set to come into force from June 16th. It will therefore be a criminal offence to coerce people into marriage.
Supporters of forced marriages becoming a criminal offence, argue that criminalising it would be a great deterrent to the perpetrators of such unions and send out a powerful message that forcing individuals to marry is wrong.
Opponents however say victims will be scared to imprison their parents or family members, as they could be threatened with further abuse should they decide to report them.
The victims however matter the most in all of this, as they ultimately have to decide whether or not report their families to the police.
The civil remedy nevertheless will still remain alongside the criminal one. So victims will have the choice over whether to proceed down the civil route, or go ahead with the criminal prosecution.
Ali for the last 4 years faced huge pressure from his family to settle down. Now in his 30’s, he decided to leave his parents house earlier this year after constantly being harassed and abused about getting married.
His name has been changed in order to protect his identity.
“I wasn’t against getting married, just to someone I’d never met. The whole family though would corner me every evening”.
In his own words Ali was never given a choice, it was something he had to do. His parents were determined to get him married and were prepared to go to any lengths, however desperate just to make that happen.
His family kept watch on him like a hawk, following his every move.
His life was constantly being interfered into. So much so, his passport, bank card and driving licence were taken off him. They would lock the doors and take all the keys when he was alone in the house. Ali even says that a family member would drop him off to work and bring him back, to make sure he wouldn’t go anywhere.
“My passport taken off me, my bank card taken off me, my driving license taken off me. They would lock me in the house to make sure I wouldn’t escape”.
He soon realised that enough was enough, he couldn’t take it anymore. Leaving then was the only option as the situation was just getting worse.
According to Officer ‘A’ and Officer ‘B’, criminalising the offence will deter victims from reporting, as they could be subjected to further abuse with their lives even at risk.
“For victims to go down the criminal route, it could have massive reprisals for them and bring more shame upon their families”.
The police are not the only ones that agree the criminal offence will have a negative effect on victims.
Caseworkers such as Suki believe that victims will find it hard to report their families for a criminal offence, as “they find it hard reporting them already and speaking out against them.”
She does however point that it will give leverage to charities and agencies like hers and help to raise awareness around forced marriage nationally and locally in schools.
As we know the biggest impact this will have, is on the victims themselves. But what do victims think of it then?
Ali had this to say on the matter:
“At the end of the day, they’re still family and I wouldn’t want them to go through the courts, especially my mother”.
For Ali the legislation will have some positives, but on a larger scale it will mostly be negative. The reason he says that is if “I decided to report them, my whole generation and community would be out for me, as I’d have committed the biggest betrayal of grassing up my family and parents”.
For the criminal offence to actually work and be successful, everyone from the police, schools, charities and agencies need to work together and be committed to enforcing the new law, so victims will feel safe and secure in going down the criminal path.
But at the end of the day, forced marriages are a crime and an abuse of human rights. It is purely cultural and not religious in any way at all. Every major religion from Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, Hinduism, Judaism and Buddhism condemns it, as freely given consent is an essential requirement in all those faiths.
From what we know from those institutions who actively deal with victims of forced marriages such as the police and caseworkers, the criminal offence is simply not the solution. The threat of being murdered and being abused even more is too big a risk too take in their opinion. What could be the solution is better education, more awareness and increased protection for individuals when taking out an FMPO. This then could go a long way in finally ending this terrible and inhumane practice.
There is help available for anyone who is going through or has escaped a forced marriage:
- Karma Nirvana– Honour Network Helpline: 0800 5999247
- Forced Marriage Unit: 020 7008 0151
- Against Forced Marriages- Free Helpline: 0800 141 2994
You are not alone.