Forced marriage: should it be a crime?

Forced Marriages Bill

You may recently have seen the news that Prime Minister David Cameron wants forcing someone to marry to become a crime under UK law.  His announcement comes following a report  by the Home Affairs Select Committee in May (blog on that report here) which highlighted failings in the UK”s response to forced marriage and called on the government to criminalise it.

What is Cameron’s proposal all about?

A person who has been forced into marriage or who is at risk can get protection by applying for a court order banning anyone who is trying to force them to marry from taking certain actions, for example going near their home or taking them out of the country.  These orders, called Forced Marriage Protection Orders or FMPOs, play a really important role by ensuring that a person can quickly get protection.

Unfortunately though, in IKWRO’s experience family members do not always take FMPOs seriously, and will often continue to harrass and put pressure on the victim until he or she gives in.  Part of the Prime Minister’s proposal was to make breaching an FMPO a criminal offence in itself.  This will send a stronger message to perpetrators that forcing someone to marry will not be tolerated.

The Prime Ministers proposals actually go a step further, and will make the act of forcing someone to marry a crime in itself.  IKWRO believes that this is the right thing to do.

What are the arguments in favour of criminalisation?

From IKWRO’s perspective not only will criminalisation act as a deterrent to families who might otherwise resort to forced marriage, but it will also give victims a stronger sense that what is happening to them is wrong, making it easier for them to speak out.

In addition, if forced marriage were a crime we believe this would encourage schools and other organisations working with young people to take the problem more seriously.  The Home Affairs Select Committee’s  recent report found that awareness of forced marriage was still too low in many schools and that some teachers were reluctant to tackle the problem, for fear of getting involved in what they see as a cultural problem.

What are the arguments against?

Some organisations are opposed to criminalisation, and argue that it might make young people afraid to report what is happening to them if it means their parents could end up in prison.  IKWRO is not convinced by this argument, since it is not evidenced in other countries where forced marriage is a crime.  In fact, as colleagues in Denmark (which criminalised forced marriage in 2008) have told us:

“It has in no way been our experience that young people have stopped seeking help because of this law.  On the contrary, the number of young people and professionals seeking help from LOKK has soared since 2008”.

Some organisations also argue that whereas a crime is prosecuted after the fact, FMPOs enable victims to get protection as and when they need it.  Therefore, they say, the protections afforded by making forced marriage a criminal offence will actually be lower than those that already exist.  IKWRO recognises these arguments, which is why we believe that FMPOs should remain in place alongside any new criminal offence.  This will mean that people affected by forced marriage can get full protection, while those who carry it out will feel the full force of the law.

What do you think?  We want to hear your views on criminalisation of forced marriage.  Post your comments below.

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