I see today in the Guardian and Independent there is an ongoing debate about government plans in Britain to introduce legislation which would criminalise the act of forcing another person into marriage. Australia too is at the moment introducing similar legislation in a bundle of laws dealing with forced marriage, slavery within the sex industry and organ trafficking.
In Britain the situation is such that forced marriage is prohibited in Scotland but the practice of making someone marry against their will is not currently illegal in England and Wales. Although there are “Forced Marriage Orders”. These are restraining orders against a family and allow police e.g. to confiscate the victim’s passport so that they cannot be taken out of the country for the purposes of marriage.
There are many issues here:
- Whether the introduction of these laws will first and foremost protect the victims by acting as a deterrent to parents who impose this on their children;
- Or whether it will drive the issue underground as some commentators are suggesting;
- Whether or not this crime, for surely it is a crime of the first order, is in fact already covered by laws relating to Abduction, Rape, Coercion, Kidnapping and the like;
- There is no doubt that this is a reality for many – last year in Britain the police dealt with approximately 1600 cases of forced marriage. Surveys suggest that the numbers are a lot higher, with estimates as high as 6000.
I am not decided yet on the issue – my instinct would be that those girls and boys forced into marriage need every possible protection, and that legislation is surely one of those that is needed. But the question needs to be asked as to whether this legislation will help to break down the wall of silence behind which these horrendous acts take place, or if it will only increase its height?
Sameem Ali. now a Labour Party Councillor and a victim of forced marriage herself at age 13, says it will force the issue underground. She says, “But the legislation will make victims of forced marriage point the finger at their own parents. What young person is going to want to do that? To say those things about their own mum and dad, who they love.’
IN other European countries however where this has been criminalised there seem to have been positive effects: ‘Since Denmark criminalised forced marriage in 2008, a Copenhagen-based organisation, LOKKreported an increase in young people coming forward. Other grass root organisations in countries which have criminalised forced marriage have seen a 50% increase in the reporting of forced marriage.’ (The Independent)