Every year thousands of men and women are subjected to the horrific ordeal of being forced into an engagement or marriage against their will, often in the name of “family honour”.
In June 2014 this practice became unlawful in the UK, with family members potentially receiving up to 7 years imprisonment if found guilty.
Unlike an arranged marriage, which is common practice within a number of cultures, a forced marriage sees the victim entering into a marriage against their will, usually under duress.
BBC One recently broadcast a heart provoking documentary about the Government’s fight against forced marriage, and aired footage of a British Consul in Pakistan conducting rescue missions to remove two victims of forced marriage who were, effectively, being held captive by their families.
Both young victims had been removed from the UK during the summer holidays, with the promise of education, only to find themselves trapped overseas, their travel documents having being seized by their family upon arrival. Both girls had suffered abuse by family members once away from the protection of the British justice system.
It was suggested in the documentary that, by criminalising forced marriages, such arrangements would, effectively, go “underground” to avoid detection until families were outside the jurisdiction of the courts in England and Wales. Whilst there may be some truth in this suggestion, the awareness raised through the media as a result of criminalising such actions has boosted awareness of the issue. The documentary followed the Jan Trust in London who visit schools to educate children about forced marriage and tells them what signs to look for. Their work means that whilst victims may not feel that they are in a position to come forward, others around them may pick up on the signs and report their concerns before it is too late.
The documentary also highlighted the emotional conflict faced by victims who want to stop a forced marriage, but without criminalising their parents. An alternative safeguard would be for potential victims to use the civil courts to prevent a forced marriage. The Courts in England and Wales can make protective orders under the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007 in order to stop a person from being forced into a marriage. These orders also offer protection to those who have already suffered that fate. The Courts can attach what is known as a ‘Penal Notice’, which means that if a person breaks the terms of the Order they could be liable to committal to prison or face a fine. In short – as long as the terms of the Order are adhered to, prison is avoided.
Forced Marriage Protection Orders can be sought through an emergency application to court, if necessary without the Respondent being told such an order is being sort. Although these applications are typically made by the local authority in the first instance, they can in fact be made by anyone with a real concern. If you fear that a friend, colleague or family member will be forced into a marriage, you can make an emergency application to prevent this from happening.
Legal aid is available without having to provide any evidence of former domestic violence. Financial eligibility is also waivered which means that if your income/capital exceeds a certain amount, you will not be ‘ineligible’, instead you will simply have to make a contribution at later stage. This can save much of the cost that would otherwise arise.
The Family Law Company are experienced in dealing with cases of forced marriage and is able to offer advice and guidance from our Exeter and Plymouth solicitors on an emergency basis. Please contact us on 01392 457152 (Exeter) or 01752 547679 (Plymouth) for more information. If you feel that you are in imminent danger please call 999 immediately. Alternatively, if you do not want to seek an order, but simply want impartial advice please contact the Forced Marriage Unit on 020 7008 0151.