Prime Minister David Cameron confirmed this month that forced marriage will be made a criminal offence. He compared it to slavery. As much as I welcome this recognition of crime in the British legal system, I’m concerned on what the outcome could be. So “forced marriage” goes under the spotlight…
Currently, a breach of the Forced Marriage Act 2007 could lead to a 2-year prison sentence. However, this is considered a civil law matter. Next year, the government will put a new comprehensive legislation before Parliament to make it a criminal case.
But what is forced marriage? So many people I know misunderstand it as arranged marriage, which are worlds apart! The tradition of arranged marriage was prevalent in the royal family as recently as when Charles and Diana married – although people may contest whether both parties consented!
Forced marriage in Britain is defined as forcing two people to marry, when neither has given consent to the marriage. However, it is largely recognised as forced marriage even if just one person doesn’t consent to it – which makes sense!
The Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) claims that common causes of this are to prevent unsuitable marriages (inter-caste/faith/race/community/etc.), religious or cultural ideals, “honour” or longstanding commitments and even assisting citizenship.
“Honour” is a term that has recently been bashed around by the media when discussing virtually ANY case involving an Asian boy and girl! Honour crime is such a misleading and misunderstood term that warrants a separate blog post altogether!
It was related to a close friend and colleague who I knew from Sunrise Radio, Geeta Aulakh. Her husband, who she had separated from, orchestrated her murder the day before a court hearing of the custody battle over their children. He didn’t want the divorce and probably knew he wouldn’t get custody or even access to his children.
Now where in all of this does “honour” come in? Geeta was branded as a “victim of honour crime” – what complete nonsense! It criminalises a community that allegedly lives by these “honourable” traditions, almost giving reason to murder if honour is at stake. It completely takes away from the fact that her husband was a possessive, warped individual who could consider killing someone. It has nothing to do with honour!
Similarly, Shrien Dewani who has been accused of his wife’s murder whilst on their honeymoon has been linked with honour crime. If the motive is unknown, how could such a term be associated with the case? It’s so frustrating!
This is what the forced marriage legislation will have to clarify – how does honour play a role in it and what is the definition of honour crime? It seems overly used yet grossly misunderstood.
It amazes me that forced marriage has taken so long to be recognised by the British legal system. Is this testament to how out of touch policy is with the complex cultures that make up Britain?
I question how effective forced marriage criminal law will be because I fail to believe that all victims will come out to implicate their families, which will lead to a court case. This is not to say that NO victim will come forward. But I doubt there will be a high reporting rate, similar to rape crime where comparatively few victims come forward.
I think many victims will be afraid of the treatment they will receive from other family members or the perception of them in the community. They could become a social pariah in their local community.
What should also be considered is that a lot of the elders who impose forced marriages do not even consider it as a crime. As far as they’re concerned, it’s a cultural tradition that has become a way of life. So maybe the government should focus more on educating them rather than criminalising them when the intention is not there?
Although more than half of cases are of individuals from the Pakistani community, they also include people originating from India, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey and Kurdistan. However this only reflects cases that have been brought to public attention. There could be numerous other cultural groups that impose forced marriage yet they don’t receive the exposure needed to recognise them as an impacted community.
Making forced marriage illegal is overdue and welcomed. But, we can only wait and see what details the forced marriage legislation will cover next year. I hope the government does its research effectively by consulting with communities who are impacted by this heinous crime.