Arranged marriage and forced marriage. What is the difference? Is there a difference? Yes there is. And it is a big difference. An arranged marriage is consensual. Both parties are introduced to each other and given the choice of whether they wish to proceed with a relationship based on the intention to marry. A forced marriage is not consenual and one or both parties may not wish to engage in the marriage ceremony at all. An arranged marriage is traditional and cultural and a forced marriage is not traditional and nor is it cultural. A forced marriage is abuse.
Many young boys and girls are taken out of school and often although they are missing for weeks on end no reports or further action is taken by the school. No steps are taken to alert the authorities or the Police to say that someone is missing. If someone went missing from the park for 3 days they would be considered missing. So why not report the young Asian school children who go missing for weeks on end? Is it the fear of upsetting someones religious beliefs or being too culturally sensitive that prevents such action. Are people too afraid to ask questions or ignorant of what is happening around them? I do not think any one knows the reasons but this attitude towards these missing children can result in horrific abuse being suffered by them. Some children are forced into marriage, raped, beaten and left without their families abroad. Does the fact that they are married to their abuser make this any less significant than child absue? I think not. Or does being married make it acceptable to society? Again, I think not.
When these children return to school they may have been sexually abused and may appear withdrawn. Often their appearance has changed dramatically and yet again, no one asks where they have been and the simple question of ‘are you ok?’. Often, the children suffer in silence and have no one to talk to and no appointed contact at the school. They cannot tell their family or their friends as they may fear isolation and may not know how to explain what has happened to them. When I was at school, lots of my friends went abroad and returned with drastically altered appearances. I was a child myself and now realize how much they must have suffered. Many went away wearing western clothes and returned wearing Asian attire throughout the school years.
Finally some progress is being made and the Home Secretary Theresa May is considering whether the act of forcing someone to marry should be made a criminal offence. At the moment this is a Civil law matter and the onus is placed on the victim of the forced marriage to take action against their family and loved ones in order to protect themselves. These are young children who are often being asked to take adult decisions and deal with adult emotions. Naturally they find this very difficult. The Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007 allows an individual to make an application for a Forced Marriage Protection Order. If this order is breached the victim must make an application and return the matter back to the Civil Court and prove that the breach occurred.
This is a great burden emotionally on that individual. Many that have obtained a Forced Marriage Protection Order find themselves isolated and without support after the order is in place. The agencies that help them think that the individual is protected as the order is made. But in my view the real work starts after the order is made. That is when the most support is required and many victims will say from experience that they are left with none. Most children that are affected by the practice of forced marriage come from close knit, large families and do not cope well being on their own. Without the right level of support many may return to their parents and families and decide to comply with the marriage which they did not want for the sake of preserving the family honour (izzat). Many may be reluctant to take action against their families even when the order is breached as the victim often feels a tremendous amount of love for their parents and family despite the situation they find themselves in. Many will not take action for fear that their parents will be imprisoned and their status in the community will be effected.
The children in Asian families abide by a certain code of conduct that is dictated by the community within which they live. A certain level of education is expected and tolerance of relationships outside of marriage is still largely frowned upon. The children are preconditioned from birth to conform to certain pressures that society and community place upon them. Gays and Lesbians would find it difficult having their relationship and their sexuality accepted within the communities within which they live and many may be forced into marriage to “cure” them of being attracted to the same sex.
Honour (izzat) is often the most important aspect of the families standing in the community. To have this ridiculed or shamed by the actions of children can result in honour killings and many victims in the UK have suffered this ordeal. Parents killing their own children because they fail to conform or want to live life independently.
So should forced marriage become a criminal offence? Yes. Because this sends out a strong message to those communities that engage in this practice that if they are caught or reported to be engaging in this act then it will be considered a crime. At the moment there is no real sanction. Many are made subject to the Forced Marriage Protection Order and the sanction is limited to the victim returning to Court. It is often easier for the victim to return to the family and in many instances accept the marriage. The order seems to lack the weight that is attributed to injunctions which if breached are considered a criminal offence and the necessary action is taken by the Police and CPS.
All those in communities that are affected by this practice should take the opportunity to comment on the Home Office consultation paper relating to forced marriages. Often it it those communities that this practice affects that remain silent. If you have been subjected to a forced marriage and have views that can assist or put into place provisions that help protect someone else in the future, then you should make your comments known. They can make a difference. You can respond to the consultation at http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/publications/about-us/consultations/forced-marriage/
If you require advise and assistance on an international aspect of a divorce or separation or forced marriage, then please contact Leeds Family Law on 0113 3944145 to discuss your options now. Married abroad and want to separate? We can help you to understand your legal rights.