Forced Marriage and ‘Honour’ Killing

“Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intended spouses.” Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 16   Forced Marriage chained hands

A forced marriage is where one or both people do not consent to the marriage and pressure or abuse is used. This pressure can be physical (including threats, actual physical violence and sexual violence) or emotional and psychological (for example, when someone is made to feel like they’re bringing shame on their family).

Forced Marriage is illegal in the UK and those found guilty face up to seven years in prison.

Under the law the sole act of forcing someone into a marriage is a criminal offence, carrying custodial sentences. Until recently, prosecutors were required to show offences, such as kidnapping, had been broken if they wish to pursued criminal charges. The new law is thought to be designed to strengthen existing civil laws against forced marriage, which required the victim to file a protection order. Many saw that as an unreasonable hurdle that hindered the government’s ability to effectively address the issue.

Prevention of forced marriage has been on the policy agenda in the UK for some time, with David Cameron calling the practice, “completely wrong” and “little more than slavery”.

Forced marriage is thought to affect over 8,000 Britons every year; the youngest victim reported to the Home Office recently was five-years-old. Most cases of forced marriage occur within families from southern Asian countries, including India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.

Forced marriage is an abuse of human rights. It is not an issue confined to any particular culture or ethnic group but transcends race, religion, nationality, ages and gender.

Foreign and Commonwealth — Forced Marriage Unit

The Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) is dedicated to preventing British Nationals being forced into marriage overseas.

Figures released by the Government’s Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) on 2 July 2009 show a welcome increase in the number of people willing to come forward to seek protection from forced marriage.  The specialist unit, a joint body of the Foreign Office and Home Office, has already received 770 calls or emails to its helpline about suspected forced marriages so far this year – an increase of 16% in the same period last year.

Cases of forced marriage dealt with by the Forced Marriage Unit have almost trebled since 2005, from 152 cases to 420 last year as more people come forward to seek help. However the true scale of the problem remains unclear. The very nature of forced marriage means that it is likely that a number of cases go unreported.

Arranged Marriages

There must be no confusion with an arranged marriage, where family and friends bring together parties to a marriage and have a greater or lesser degree of involvement. Both partners freely and willing consent to the marriage and such marriages have a long-standing and very successful tradition.

‘Honour’ Killing

‘Honour’ Killing is a punitive murder, committed by members of a family against a female member whom the family and/or wider community believes to have brought dishonour upon the family.  A woman is usually targeted for: refusing a forced marriage, seeking a divorce (even from an abusive husband), or committing adultery or fornication.

Bizarrely, a woman who is even the victim of a rape or sexual assault is also deemed to have brought dishonour to her family! These killings result from the perception that any behaviour of a woman that ‘dishonours’ her family is justification for a killing that would otherwise be deemed murder.

UNICEF has reported that in India, more than 5,000 brides are killed annually because their marriage dowries are considered insufficient. Honour killings have occurred in many countries, including the UK.