For many, getting married is an exciting time; a celebration. But for others, it can be a very upsetting and dangerous event that puts their health and happiness at risk.
When one party, or both parties, are being forced into a marriage that they do not want, or cannot consent to, it is a forced marriage. Forced marriage is a crime that can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation, although statistics from the Government’s Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) show most victims are young females.
What Constitutes a Forced Marriage?
There are several situations in which a marriage is deemed to be forced:
1. Lack of consent: Not agreeing to a marriage, or saying ‘no’
2. Abuse: Sexual, physical, emotional, or financial abuse to force compliance
3. Lack of awareness: Not understanding that the marriage is happening
A forced marriage can also happen if a person or persons lack the mental capacity to provide informed consent. For example, if someone has learning difficulties that prevent them from fully understanding the situation. According to the FMU, this accounts for around 10% of all forced marriage cases in the UK today.
Child marriages are also a form of forced marriage, ‘given that one and/or both parties cannot express full, free, and informed consent’.
An arranged marriage is generally not categorised as a type of forced marriage. This is because, while a person may not select their spouse under an arranged marriage agreement, they have agreed to the union and given their consent to the marriage, and are provided with an opportunity to refuse if they do not wish to go ahead with the union.
Why Does it Happen?
Forced marriage can take place for many different reasons. Some reasons include:
● Long standing traditions
● A form of debt repayment
● Pressure from the community
● Maintaining honour
● Retaining a family’s reputation
However, while forced marriage is often thought of as being related to religion and culture, it’s vital to remember that anyone, from any background, can be a victim. That’s why it’s so important to understand forced marriage, and how to stop it.
Is Forced Marriage Legal?
Forced marriage is illegal in England, Wales, and Scotland under the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime, and Policing Act 2014. It is also a criminal offence in Ireland. Under the legislation, a person forcing another to marry can face up to 7 years in prison.
Unfortunately, despite forced marriage being illegal in the UK, it still happens. On average, the FMU is involved in upwards of 1000 cases each and every year.
Other countries, however, do not have such legislation in place, and forced marriage remains a common practice in a number of nations. One of the most notable is South Africa, where the act of Ukuthwala sees men kidnap their brides. Another established practice, this time in Afghanistan, is known as Baad. This involves a family offering their daughter to another family as a form of apology. Whilst against the law, a lack of understanding of women’s rights means it still takes place.
There are six countries where there is no minimum age for marriage – Equatorial Guinea, Gambia, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen – resulting in potential child marriages.
How to Stop Forced Marriage
A Forced Marriage Protection Order, or FMPO, can prevent a person from forcing another into an unwanted marriage. A FMPO can be provided by the court, and anyone – whether they’re being forced into a marriage, or are worried about someone else who appears to be in that situation – can apply for an FMPO.
If an application is approved, the court can provide one of two types of FMPOs:
● Interim Forced Marriage Protection Order: This is a temporary FMPO that’s used to prevent a marriage that is scheduled to take place at a specific time. For example, if a person is planning to take another abroad for the purpose of marriage, an interim FMPO can prevent the person leaving the country.
● Full / Final Forced Marriage Protection Order: This type of FMPO will remain valid and in place unless an application is made to vary the order, or discharge it. It does not lapse automatically, and anyone failing to comply with the terms of the order can face up to 7 years in prison under UK legislation.
In 2021, UK courts received a total of 203 applications for FMPOs.
Applying for a FMPO
Applications for an FMPO can be made online. Each application will require a witness statement which outlines the situation, and the interventions that are felt necessary to protect yourself, or the person you’re concerned about. Depending on your circumstances legal aid may be able available.
At National Legal Service, we’re here to support victims and concerned parties by providing professional, friendly advice for completing an application for an FMPO, and advising on the next steps to prevent a forced marriage. Contact us for more information. If you or someone else is in immediate danger, always dial 999.