The NSPCC has published their figures showing a large increase in the number of calls they receive from children in Britain who are worried they will be forced to marry. Around a quarter of those children who contact Childline are aged between 12 to 15 years old. These are the brave individuals. Many children do not speak about forced marriage as it is often their parents who are responsible. Children worry about family honour, reputation and being isolated from their communities, this is commonly known as “izzat”. Children also fear their parents or relatives will be punished if they are to speak out. Dr Ash Chand, the NSPCC strategy head from minority ethnic children said:-
“…choosing a life partner is a basic human right and no religion or culture condones forced marriage. Yet, despite this, many children and young people are being coerced or even forced to do so without their consent.”
Childline has reported a 12% increase from the previous year in counselling provided to children. Case studies, show children as young as 13 reported to be frightened they would be taken abroad and forced to marry a stranger by their families. Forced marriage often happens in secret; many had experienced bullying, threats, sexual and physical abuse from their parents, the wider family and also religious leaders. There can be many reasons why parents believe the marriage would be in the child’s best interest, for example money, pressure from the community, family value and honour to name a few, but none of these reasons are acceptable, nobody has the right to forced an adult or a child in to marriage.
There is concern that the long summer break may be utilised by some families to arrange forced marriages abroad. The legal age for marriage in England, Wales and Northern Ireland is 18 years of age; however children aged 16 years of age can be married with their parents consent. Therefore if their parents are the driving forced behind the marriage children may feel helpless. In Scotland children aged 16 years do not need parental consent.
Childline are doing all they can to increase awareness of this problem amongst adults and young people. It needs to be impressed upon children that it is never acceptable, in any culture to force an individual in to marriage. Even an arranged marriage can turn in to a forced marriage if the parties change their mind, and the family do not accept the decision.
The message is clear, the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 makes the act of forcing a person in to marriage illegal and has set up a specialist forced marriage unit for this. If found guilty, forced marriage is punishable by up to 7 years imprisonment.
Forced marriages happen in many religions and nationalities and affects both boys and girls. Of the cases the unit deals with it has been estimated 80% of those affected were female and 20% were male. They found the practice of forced marriage in more than 60 countries.
Although to date there has only be one successful prosecution the Government are doing all they can to tackle this problem. A spokesman for the Home Office has stated:-
“Force marriage is an abhorrent practice that this government is determined to tackle…we want to give more victims of this hidden crime the confidence to come forward, which is why we introduced lifelong anonymity for victims last year.”
The NSPCC’s Chief Executive, Peter Wanless stated:-
This is a crime and an abuse of human rights. Forcing a child to marry shows a complete lack of regard for their feelings, thoughts or ambitions.
The NSPCC are urging anybody who is worried about a child being forced in to marriage to contact their hotline on 0800 1111.
In addition to the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act, the family court can make a Forced Marriage Protection Order for victims. In 2016 the family court made a total of 246 orders to protect those individuals who were brave enough to speak out.
Farleys can also assist, if you yourself feel pressured in to marriage or you are worried about a child or an adult who may be forced, particularly during the summer holidays do not delay. Contact us immediately for an urgent confidential appointment. Our specialist team understand the unique, particularly sensitive and difficult circumstances. We have offices in Blackburn, Burnley, Accrington, Preston and Manchester. Contact us on 0845 287 0939 or e-mail us today.