Teachers could get power to stop forced marriages
January 4, 2008
Teachers, social workers, women’s rights groups and local councils may be given the power to stop forced marriages, under government plans to protect vulnerable teenagers.
Ministers are preparing a list of third parties who would have the authority to go to court to try to prevent families from forcing children into marriage in Britain and abroad.
Eighty-five per cent of victims of forced marriages are women, most are aged 15-24, 90 per cent are Muslim and 90 per cent are of Pakistani or Bangladeshi heritage.
The plan is aimed at helping those who are too young, too unwilling or too frightened to go to court to stop their families from marrying them out.
A third party seeking to prevent a forced marriage would be able to ask the courts for a forced marriage protection order, which would result in a jail sentence if broken.
“An application made on a victim’s behalf allows the victim to be one step removed from the court proceedings,” according to a paper drawn up by the Ministry of Justice.
“Victims may feel unwilling or unable to take action against the perpetrators who may be members of their family.”
Those served with a forced marriage protection order would be required to stop the marriage and keep away from the victim, and may also be required to hand over their passports to the courts.
Police would have the power of arrest where there was a risk of significant harm to the victim. Anyone breaching the order would be in contempt of court and liable to a heavy fine or up to two years in jail.
The third party would not need to get the victim’s permission before going to court to ask for the order.
Bridget Prentice, Under Secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice, said: “This is really vital work. When you look at the situations some of the people affected by forced marriages will be in, it is clear that not all of them will be able to apply personally to the courts for protection. And some victims might not want to take court actions against members of their own family.”
Among the organisations the Ministry of Justice has indicated could act as third parties are Victim Support, Asian women’s groups, women’s refuges, groups that help victims of domestic violence and the local authorities.
The ministry’s consultation paper said: “There are many people and organisations that support victims of forced marriage. There are voluntary and charitable organisations dedicated to offering support and assistance to forced marriage victims. They often work closely with local communities and offer frontline practical support.”
Pragna Patel, of Southall Black Sisters, a London-based organisation that helps black and Asian victims of domestic violence, said that the change to the law was absolutely necessary. “We are looking to help people who might not have the confidence to seek help. We are talking about young girls, sometimes held against their will and some in isolated places,” Ms Patel said.
“They may be being monitored by their family and members of the extended family which makes it very difficult for them to go and get help for themselves”. The consultation paper contains an analysis of the likely effects of the legal change. This suggests that between 5 and 50 cases a year would end up in court.
The Government’s Forced Marriage Unit receives about 5,000 calls for advice annually. Of these about 300 become cases, with a quarter resulting in overseas rescue of victims and their return to Britain.
Latest figures published by the Home Office show that 15 per cent of the 300 cases involved men and 30 per cent minors.
A total of 250 girls aged between 13-16 were taken off the school rolls in Bradford last year because they failed to return from a trip abroad. (one town!)
In conjunction with the introduction of the forced marriage protection order, the Home Office plans to raise from 18 years to 21 the minimum age at which someone can sponsor a spouse or be brought to the UK as a spouse.
The Home Office has also outlined a plan that would allow young men and women who were sponsoring a foreigner’s trip to Britain for the purpose of marriage to make a confidential statement about the motives for the visa application. This would give the sponsor the chance to express reservations and allow immigration authorities to turn down a visa without other members of the family being alienated.
The forced marriage protection order will come into force later this year and will give the civil courts much stronger powers than they have already. At the moment courts can ban a person from molesting someone but the forced marriage protection order will go much farther in the restrictions it will be able to make.
An order can be made against a wide range of people including a person who is in England and Wales; who is outside England and Wales; who is or may become involved in other respects as well as the person who is trying to or has forced another into marriage and other persons who are, or may become, involved in other respects of any kind such as relatives.
Unlike other orders in the 1996 Family Law Act, an application for a forced marriage protection order can be made by an “interested party” such as a teacher.
Chew on that MCB!
“FORCED MARRIAGE – A Wrong not a Right”
Thu 08 Dec 2005
MCB Response to Consultation Paper[doc.]
The MCB welcomes this opportunity to respond to the Home Office consultation document – “Forced Marriage” – Wrong not Right”.
The response is based upon wide consultation amongst out affiliates and reflects a strong consensus of views amongst the Muslim community in Britain.
The practice of, “arranged marriages” has sometimes been confused by the media and ill intentioned persons as “forced marriages”. An arranged marriage is one where the marriage is facilitated and certainly not forced upon parties.
The consultation paper attempts to address the problem of forced marriages in the United Kingdom and as we understand it does not raise any concerns on the practice of arranged marriages followed in some cultures
MCB is of the firm opinion that, as appears acknowledged in the paper, there are already laws in place to prosecute the perpetrators of this offence. In the circumstances the MCB sees no justification for a new law in this regard.
In the view of the MCB the solution to this evil act is to raise awareness in the communities of the existing laws that apply to situations of forced marriages rather than create a new law.
A new law on forced marriages will have the real risk of being seen to target ethnic minorities.
Any law in this regard which is promoted as a tool to help the victims and deter the offenders is most unlikely to be effective because of the nature of the problem and the cultural as well as familial sensitivities involved. A coercive tool in a family and cultural setting is rarely, if ever successful
The family bond and loyalty will deter many from using the law. The tool when used will in effect tear the family unit and create division and distress.