Women’s rights charity at the forefront of the movement to end forced marriage welcomes new criminal offence in Scotland

Diana Nammi, Executive Director of the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation is available for interview.

Today, 30 September 2014, forced marriage becomes a self-standing criminal offence in Scotland, bringing it line with England and Wales, which made forced marriage a criminal offence on 16 June 2014. Now anyone who commits an offence of forcing someone to marry in Scotland, England or Wales is liable to imprisonment for up to 7 years.

As in England and Wales, Scottish civil courts retain the power to implement Forced Marriage Protection Orders, if a person is at risk of forced marriage. Anyone found guilty of breaching a Forced Marriage Protection Order in Scotland, England or Wales, can face prison.

The Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation (IKWRO), which represents women and girls from Middle Eastern, North African and Afghan communities, and has been at the forefront of the campaign to criminalise Forced Marriage across the UK over the last decade, welcomes this vital progress in the movement to end forced marriage.

Diana Nammi, founder and Executive Director of IKWRO says;

“We have campaigned tirelessly for the criminalisation of forced marriage across the UK for many years. This is what the women and girls that we represent want; to know that the law is on their side. Until this point the absence in Scotland of a specific criminal offence for forcing someone into a marriage has undermined the movement to end this horrific form of abuse. It is a crucial deterrent and lots of our clients have told us that if forced marriage had been criminalised when they were faced with it, their families might not have proceeded with it, as they would have been worried about the consequences of breaking the law. We are therefore delighted with this development. Criminalisation makes it crystal clear to everyone; victims, perpetrators, professionals working with people at risk and the general public, that forced marriage is not tolerated in any part of the UK.
Some people have argued that speaking about and criminalising forced marriage invites racism and negativity towards minority communities and that we should therefore remain silent. IKWRO has always strongly disagreed with that view.

We must tackle all human rights abuses across all communities and this can and must be done at the same time as challenging racism. It’s the practice of forced marriage itself that leaves communities open to stigmatisation. As we have seen with the recent scandal in Rotherham, to keep quiet about abuses betrays the most vulnerable as well as actually leaving communities open to criticism.
Whilst the change in the law is a crucial step, it is only part of the solution. Everyone needs to know that forced marriage is against the law and where they can get help should they need it. IKWRO is working to make this happen by engaging with schools and colleges, training school staff at inset says, educating students about their rights and empowering future generations not become perpetrators. We are also connecting with parents through schools to change their attitudes and help influence positive change in the wider community.

However, to ensure that all young people are reached, we need all parts of the government across Scotland, England and Wales to get on board. Whole school education about the prevention of forced marriage must be made compulsory and it must be mandatory for all schools to be trained to understand the issue and to embed it in their safeguarding policies.

Furthermore, the government across all parts of the UK must implement a national strategy to address forced marriage. The strategy must ensure:
a) Effective training for all professionals working with the public, including the police, judges, health professionals and social services.
b) Whole school education for students and all staff.
c) Monitoring of prolonged absences by students and students not returning from holidays.
d) That affected communities, including both potential perpetrators and potential victims are made aware of the changes in the law.
e) A victim/survivor focussed approach to ensure they are fully protected and supported.
f) Access to public funds for victims/ survivors.
g) Provision within immigration law and procedures to permanently protect victims/survivors.
h) Access to justice through legal aid for victims/survivors.
i) Sustainable funding for specialist support organisations like IKWRO and for refuges.

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