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Forced marriages

The statistics on forced marriages are worrying with around 14 million girls under the age of 18 marrying, while in Britain alone at least 10% of adolescents marry under the age of 18. The Forced Marriage Unit in the UK gave advice or support in relation to possible forced marriages in 1,485 cases last year.

Therefore, it is a significant problem in this country but here we will take a look at what a forced marriage actually is and what can be done by those affected and the authorities alike to prevent them taking place.

Defining a forced marriage

All women of whatever age should have the right to choose who to marry, when to marry and whether they marry at all. If that choice is taken away from them, it may be that it essentially becomes a forced marriage.

The term forced marriages refers to those marriages where one or both of the parties do not consent to it and where pressure or abuse is used to make them comply. The pressure used can be physical and may include violence but the term also includes emotional and psychological pressure, for instance if a family say they will disown a young girl if she refuses to marry. Financial abuse, such as depriving the girl of money or taking their wages away can also be a factor.

Those outside of the immediate family circle may not be aware what is going on and it can be difficult to spot a girl affected by an impending forced marriage, though there are some tell-tale signs that may be an indication that something is wrong.

  1. Firstly, if the girl is absent from school/college for any length of time, or if there is a noticeable drop in their performance.
  2. If the girl is working, again if she suffers from poor attendance and poor performance.
  3. If there is a family history of brothers or sisters leaving education or work early in order to marry.
  4. Evidence of self-harm, depression, attempted suicide or similar behaviour.
  5. Evidence of family disputes including possible domestic violence or running away from home.

Help at hand

  • The UK has a specialist Forced Marriage Unit which can give assistance to those who want to stop a forced marriage taking place or who may want to leave a marriage they have been forced into.
  • In an emergency, call 999 where trained professionals will be on hand to give advice and possibly also practical help including finding a victim a safe place to stay.
  • The court can issue a Forced Marriage Protection Order which can protect a possible victim in a number of ways according to the circumstances of the case. It can make an order to protect the victim immediately or it can order specific instructions ahead of a forced marriage such as ordering someone to hand over their passport. Someone found to be disobeying such an order could receive a prison sentence of up to two years.

If you are concerned that someone may be being forced into a marriage against their will then the first step is to contact the Forced Marriage Unit giving as many details as you have including where the person has gone, when they are due back and when you last heard from them.