By Kaly Kaul QC and
KALY KAUL QC said: “The courts and prosecuting authorities recognise that there is considerable fear of reporting your family and that victims are afraid of repercussions if they seek help,” while Neelam Sarkaria added: “If you are at risk of a forced marriage, support is available for you regardless of your sex, sexuality and social background, provided you are ordinarily resident in the UK. Forced marriage falls within the new government definition of domestic abuse and continues to be treated seriously.”
Forced marriage, which is against the law, became a criminal offence in June 2014. Forcing a person into marriage is a criminal offence and if your abuser is found guilty of committing this offence, they can be sentenced to prison for up to seven years. Breaching a forced marriage protection order is also a criminal offence and if the abuser is found guilty of breaching the order, they can be sentenced to prison for up to five years. Before then, the police and prosecution would look at what other offences could be charged, such as kidnapping, false imprisonment and assault.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) data from its 2017/2018 Violence Against Women and Girls report indicated that the number of convictions rose from 32 in 2016-17 to 37 in 2017-18.
It is difficult for victims, women and girls, men and boys to report their families for forced marriage. It is important to appreciate that the authorities know and understand the fears and sensitivities of coming forward and have measures in place to protect and support those either at risk or already in such a marriage. Ask for help if you need it or you know someone who is in that position.
Forced marriage protection orders (FMPO), which have been available since November 24, 2008, are really important in protecting those at risk of forced marriage, or those who need protection after a forced marriage has taken place. Applications are made in family court and since 2014, breaches of these orders are dealt with in criminal courts. They protect anyone at risk of forced marriage/or has been forced into a marriage; a ‘relevant third party’ (ie a local authority); any other person who is given permission (leave) by the court. FMPOs can include, for example, handing over passports and travel documents or stopping someone being taken abroad.
Family court data suggests that there is more activity in family courts than criminal courts in cases of forced marriage. The number of applications and orders made for FMPOs is very small. In 2018, there were 322 applications and 324 orders made, the highest annual totals since their introduction. Of the applications, 72 per cent of the applicants were aged 17 and under.
Support for victims is available from the Foreign Office, which has a special department to assist people, and a number of charities (desperately in need of funding) are available for advice. Legal aid is also available. It is very important, particularly in these times, when many young people are cut off from their schools and colleges, their teachers and friends, that everyone is aware of the support available and are not afraid to ask for it.
It may be the case that marriage ceremonies are being conducted online, as no travel is permitted, and that type of marriage would still be an offence if it was without the consent of one or both of those involved, and was accompanied by some form of violence or threat, or other type of coercion.
Don’t feel alone, and don’t turn a blind eye. We must all protect those at risk.
The Forced Marriage Unit can be reached at 020 70080151 or [email protected] The Forced Marriage Facebook page and Twitter @FMUnit are all available during the pandemic. There are also specific charities that deal with forced marriage, such as the Sharan Project, which supports women and girls between the ages of 16-24 who are at risk or have been subjected to a forced marriage.
Kaly Kaul QC is Circuit judge sitting at Wood Green crown court in London with a special interest in domestic violence/coercive behaviour. Neelam Sarkaria is Barrister and international justice and gender-based violence expert.
The authors are also vice-presidents of the Association of Women Barristers.