Today marks exactly one year since Forced Marriage was criminalised under the Anti-Social behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014. We remember campaigning for this change despite opposition stating that legislation would not make a difference. Recently we saw the first conviction under the Act – a man from Cardiff was sentenced for sixteen years for multiple crimes including forcing a woman to marry him under duress.
Whilst we welcome this sentence as a step in the right direction, we know that the law is not enough to end this abhorrent practice which destroys lives.
Our Founder Polly Harrar states “More work is still required to ensure this agenda is tackled and the reporting and support for victims is recorded and complimented by well thought out advocacy and information campaigns which clearly ensure that the general public, as well as victims and those at risk know where to access help and assistance…we believe, part of the solution is collaborative partnership working with non government organisations who are already working to develop a progressive and sustainable approach at a community level”.
Last year the Force Marriage Unit (FMU) handled 1267 FMU forced marriage cases of which 79% were women and 57% were from South Asian backgrounds and 42% were of aged between 16 – 25 but many more go unreported. Due to the complex and sensitive nature of this particular issue, we have yet to see a conviction of forced marriage where the victim has been subjected to duress by parents/family/community members or due to lack of capacity, one reason may be a genuine fear that by coming forward, victim(s) could be seen to be criminalising their families. Despite the option to take a civil route, this is a challenge many victims face and is viewed as far more ‘dishonourable’ than the abuse they have suffered, in extreme cases, disclosure could result in honour killings.
What we need is to change social and cultural attitudes, but this will take time. What we also need is a sustained commitment from government to prioritise resources to ensure that frontline services have the knowledge, training and capacity to intervene and help victims much earlier through intervention and preventative measures
So maybe one year is not long enough to really assess if the law has been successful but surely it is better to have a law than no protection at all? In the meantime our prayers and thoughts are with the brave woman and her family for speaking out and we hope this will encourage more people to come forward.
The SHARAN Project serves and advocates for vulnerable women and girls of South Asian origin, who have been disowned or forcefully or voluntarily left home due to fear of violence, forced marriage and discrimination. Founded with charitable aims in 2008, its vision is grounded in securing equality and justice for South Asian women and girls in the U.K., and it works to assist those that are marginalised to lead an independent life free from fear and coercion. The organisation provides support, advice and safe forums, as well as a range of practical services catered to the needs of the South Asian community. It is part of a civil society movement that demands change for women.
If you are affected by Forced Marriage please write to the Sharan Project at firstname.lastname@example.org or call the Forced Marriage Unit on 02070080151.