by VICTORIA ATKINS
Minister for crime, safeguarding and vulnerability
FORCED marriage is a terrible crime that can devastate lives and rob victims of their future.
Along with female genital mutilation (FGM) and all forms of so called ‘honour-based’ violence, it is a despicable act of coercion against innocent people who have the right to free and fair opportunity.
One example of the terrifying impact forced marriage can have on victims is the recent case of a couple who tricked their daughter into travelling to Bangladesh where she was to marry her cousin.
When she refused, her father threatened to slit her throat and “chop her up in 18 seconds” – one second for each year of her life. The teenage victim alerted the British High Commission who collaborated with Bangladeshi authorities to bring her safely back to the UK. The parents were convicted and jailed for this horrific abuse.
Ending forced marriage and FGM is a key part of this government’s strategy to stamp out violence against women and girls (VAWG) and is a priority for the home secretary and myself.
That is why the Home Office, in partnership with the Council of Europe, is hosting an international conference on ending FGM and forced marriage this week, and is leading the way in tackling these forms of abuse.
Survivors, community groups, young people and professionals from both across the UK and abroad have come together to share experiences and best practice. This sharing of experiences is vital in giving a broader understanding of how forced marriage works, from the point of view of the victim to the motivations of the perpetrator.
Since 2010, we have introduced a series of measures to help protect victims and those at risk of these crimes, including making forced marriage a specific crime and breach of a Forced Marriage Protection Order a criminal offence.
We have strengthened the law on forced marriage and taken steps to help encourage a coordinated response from a range of frontline professionals including doctors, teachers, social workers and police. Survivors now also have lifelong anonymity.
To date, more than 1,600 Forced Marriage Protection Orders have been made to prevent people from being forced into marriage and to assist in repatriating victims.
Our guidance for schools and colleges ensures an on-going responsibility to protect young girls by setting out what teachers should do if they fear one of their pupils may be taken out of the country and forced into marriage.
And the joint Home Office and Foreign & Commonwealth Office Forced Marriage Unit runs a public helpline to ensure victims and potential victims can get confidential advice and practical support. Last year, this unit gave advice or support, ranging from providing information to organising rescue and repatriation to the UK for victims overseas, in 1,196 cases.
This truly is an international fight to end forced marriage. To bolster this progress, we have pledged increased funding of £100 million over the spending review period for VAWG.
We also have a rolling programme of joint operations by the police and Border Force. These take place at airports during school holidays and target inbound and outbound flights to and from countries with a high prevalence of these crimes.
Whether the forced marriage takes place in the UK or abroad, if it involves a UK national it is an offence that carries a maximum sentence of seven years’ imprisonment.
But while we acknowledge the positive steps taken, we must avoid complacency. There is much to be done and we, as a government, will continue to rise to the challenge to eradicate this practice.
Awareness is key. And as more people appreciate that these appalling acts are happening, here, now, as well as around the world, the greater our united strength in tackling forced marriage.
We know that the vast majority of British Asians find forced marriage abhorrent and for that reason, we see these communities as our allies in tackling this crime.
By working together – sharing solutions with international partners as well as frontline professionals, communities and the brave survivors – we will end this cruelty and unlock brighter futures for women and girls.
If you, or someone you know, is being forced to marry, you should contact the Forced Marriage Unit on 020-7008 0151