Forced Marriage: It must stop

Marriage

Last week forced arranged marriages were bought to the fore through an awareness week. Action must be taken to stop this practice.

Last week the government promoted the issue of forced arranged marriages, to raise awareness of those marriages that are carried out without the consent of those involved. The awareness week, 7 – 11th of July, came in the run up to the summer holidays because this is the time at which victims are most at risk.

The week follows attempts earlier in the year, by the government to crack down on the practice, by making forced marriages illegal.

During the holidays, victims can be deceptively taken away on holiday and there forced into marriage. Girls, aged between 15 and 20, are most likely to be victims, although it can happen to those as young as 10.

Every year in the United Kingdom there are between 8000 and 10,000 cases of forced marriages.

In June, forced arranged marriages were made illegal which means that forcing someone to get married can now result in a seven-year jail sentence.

Upon the creation of the new law, the home secretary Theresa May said that the law was: “a further move by this government to ensure victims are protected by the law and that they have the confidence, safety and the freedom to choose.”

However, while the criminalisation of the practice suggests active attempts to curb it, it is very difficult to monitor, as marriages regularly take place outside of the United Kingdom when girls are deceptively taken away on holiday.

Last year one female student enrolled at Cambridge University was forced to give up her degree and enter into a marriage in Pakistan. This meant that she was unable to continue studying, despite being committed to her studies and in her second year out of 3.

Save Your Rights is a group in the United Kingdom that campaigns against force arranged marriages and also works to help those that might be being forced into a marriage.

They have spoken of the issues that come about as a result of the criminalisation of forced arranged marriage:

“As forced marriage is practised only within small sections of certain communities, many have criticised the move to criminalise as it will potentially push the practice further underground and further disengage those involved, including victims, by discouraging them from reporting the matter to police or accessing services- as they do not wish to bring shame upon their families or potentially leave family members open to criminalisation.”

While criminalising the practice may not be conducive to curb it, steps must be taken to bring it to the fore so that those involved are aware of how wrong and damaging it can be. This would thereby allow help to be sought and given where needed.

The issue is not regularly discussed, hidden from the public, mainly because this is a cultural issue, limited to a small section of the population, and because there is an underlying fear of being deemed culturally insensitive.

While arranged marriages, where both parties consent to the agreement are regularly practised both in the UK and abroad, those where one, or both, parties are forced into marriage are less common and are a great problem.

Forced arranged marriages are often violent, because someone is being forced against their will to submit. They tend to be associated with rape and emotional manipulation.

As a population we are afraid of offending others by judging their customs. However the forcing of people into marriage against their will is equal to allowing someone to be raped, and therefore our fears of insensitivity should not prevent us from speaking up against it.

Later this year the prime minister will host the first summit dedicated to action against forced marriages, suggesting that the government are working to raise awareness and combat this issue.

A growing number of charities are now working to raise awareness of the issue. However it requires a change in consciousness from across the population in order to ensure that as a nation we are switched on to the issue enough to stamp it out.