It’s all too easy to write off forced marriage as a problem found in other countries or something that is intrinsically tied to certain non-Western cultures. But like any complex issue such a simplistic mindset not only fails to find a solution, seeing it as someone else’s problem, but it also means that forced marriage can find a foothold in our own country.
Following a new law, introduced just this year, someone who forces another to marry in the UK can be sent to jail for up to seven years. The move represents an open acknowledgement that forced marriage is a very real current issue in the UK, and one that needs to be addressed as part of a wider effort to tackle this global problem.
But how common is forced marriage in the UK?
Forced Marriage: More Common Than You Think
Although it’s true that forcing people to marry is not an accepted or tolerated act in the UK, there is certainly a large enough number of reported incidents to prompt the creation of the Forced Marriage Unit (FMU). Set up in 2005, the unit offers advice and support to victims and keep track of incidence levels.
In 2013 the FMU dealt with 1,302 suspected cases. The cross-party think-tank Demos estimate that there are between 5,000 and 8,000 instances of forced marriage every year in the UK. In the grand scheme this seems like a small figure, especially compared to suspected rates of forced marriage in other countries but remember that these are only cases where somebody has come forward and so the true scale of the problem isn’t truly known. Also, remember that each instance of forced marriage violates the human rights of an individual, limiting their life in so many ways. The human cost, no matter the raw numbers, is unacceptable.
Often girls at risk of forced marriage in the UK are taken out of the country and married off against their will, so it can be difficult for government agencies to protect them.
What’s Causing Forced Marriage?
This isn’t a problem that has a simple and clear cause. There are a number of issues that are at play, and they can be complex and interrelated. However in the UK the main causes of forced marriage are:
- Cultural Status Of Women. In the majority of instances, victims of forced marriage in the UK are members of a culture in which women have a much lower status than that of men. As such they are denied rights to make decisions over their own lives and cannot speak out for fear of retribution.
- Negative Traditions Or Religious Practices. In the cultural groups where forced marriage is accepted or commonplace there is often an element of tradition or religious practice at play. Some of these groups believe that marriage prevents ‘immoral’ behaviour on the part of women and so they seek to marry them long before they are ready and coerce them into the marriages.
In countries outside the UK, poverty, conflicts and disasters, failure to enforce laws and lack of education are also major contributing factors to the prevalence of forced marriage.
Understanding that forced marriage is a global issue, not just a problem in developing nations, is important if this negative and damaging practice is going to be ended. Only by recognising it as a problem in our own country can we come together and tackle the issue head on.
You can help by joining the movement to end forced marriage within a generation. Visit Plan UK to find out how you can help in the fight against forced marriage.
This post is in collaboration with Plan UK. I hope in publishing this information I have brought an important issue to your attention. Liska x