There are a variety of professionals who need to consider the potential indicators of forced marriage victims. In particular, teachers, police officers, social and health care professionals and housing officers.
To ensure the safety of the victim is protected, practitioners must be aware of the following key points:
- Always take the issue seriously and recognise the potential risk of very significant harm to the victim.
- See them on their own where the conversation cannot be overheard.
- Gather as much information as possible as it may be your only chance.
- Remind them of their rights i.e right to enter into the marriage with their full and free consent.
Professionals need to work together and be aware of the relevant signs of a potential forced marriage victim. If you believe that the person is being forced or has been forced into a marriage, you need to act immediately as practitioners may only have one chance to speak to a victim. This includes referring the client to various support networks available and for legal advice for potential remedies.
Forced marriage is a criminal offence. New offences came into force on 16th June 2014 as part of the Anti-social behaviour Crime and Policing Act. These include:
- Taking someone overseas to force them to marry (whether or not the forced marriage takes place)
- Marrying someone who lacks the mental capacity to consent to the marriage
- Breaching a Forced Marriage Protection Order
This could lead to up to 7 years imprisonment.
Forced Marriage Protection Orders (FMPO)
The civil remedy of obtaining a Forced Marriage Protection Order will continue to exist alongside the criminal offence.
The Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007 came into force on the 25th November 2008. The Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007 allows courts to make a Forced Marriage Protection Order (FMPO).
“Force” is defined in The Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007 as meaning to coerce by threats or other psychological means (and related expressions are to be read accordingly). It is an abuse of human rights and a form of domestic violence and abuse.
Breach of a Forced Marriage Protection Order could lead to imprisonment of up to 5 years.
What is a Forced Marriage Protection Order?
A Forced Marriage Protection Order is unique to each case and contains legally binding conditions and directions that change the behaviour of a person or persons trying to force someone into marriage. The aim of the Order is to protect the person who has been, or is being forced into marriage against their wishes. The court can make an Order in an emergency so that protection is in place straightaway.
Who can apply for an FMPO?
An application for an FMPO can be made by the victim, a relevant third party or any other person who is given leave by the court (i.e permission). Relevant third parties include government bodies, the NSPCC, police, local authorities and non-governmental organisations.
Relatives and friends of the victim will need leave of the court to make the application.
A FMPO, can be made without notice. Examples of types of Orders that the court may make are:
- to prevent a forced marriage from occurring.
- to hand over passports
- to stop intimidation and violence
- to reveal the whereabouts of a person.
- to stop someone from being taken abroad
The Order may relate to conduct in the UK and overseas.
Confidentiality and Mediation
Clearly this is a very sensitive situation and professionals need to ensure that any information remains confidential. However, it is likely that information will need to be shared with other agencies with various roles, due to danger of the victim’s well being. In order to proceed with this, all professionals need to ensure that they receive the victim’s consent. This is usually agreed if the reason for the disclosure is explained to the victim appropriately.
Mediation is likely to prove extremely dangerous in such cases. There have been cases of victims being murdered by their families as a form of so called “honour based violence”.
First Criminal Prosecution for Forced Marriage
The first prosecution was in June 2015. A 34 year old man was prosecuted and pleaded guilty to 4 counts of rape, bigamy and voyeurism.
Does a Forced Marriage Protection Order really help?
Within days of the act’s implementation, an application was brought under the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007 on behalf of a British doctor and a Bengali national, Dr Humayra Abedin who had expressed fears that she was going to be forced into a marriage and was believed to being held captive by family members in Bangladesh. The High Court issued an Order on 5th December 2008 under the Act. Subsequently, the High Court in Dhaka, Bangladesh made an Order requiring Dr Abedin’s parents to release her and allow her to return to the UK.
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