November 30, 2012
Forced marriages are rife in Britain and by 2013 it could possibly become a criminal act to marry an individual against their will. In order to prevent forced marriages from occurring in the country it is important to educate British society about negative impacts the situation has on the young person, from health to educational attainment. Apart from committing a serious violation of human rights, more often than not evidence of physical abuse, emotional, psychological and financial pressure is downplayed by public authorities due to a lack of awareness and heightened confusion owing to cultural differences. In addition, some people often perceive an arranged marriage, a relatively new concept in the nation, to be a forced marriage, paving the way for common misconception hindering prosecution.
Forced marriage usually takes place among people under the age of 18, either against the wishes or without the consent of one or both of the individuals involved. Research has shown majority of the cases to not even be reported, with more than half of the people involved in these situations not being aware of the existence of forced marriage protection orders or the legal status of the act. Although particularly operative amongst the black, Asian and minority and ethnic (BAME) communities, it is commonplace to see these practices active in the Eastern European community as well. Awareness and appreciation about cultural diversity here will really go a long way in helping authorities identify cases and deal with them appropriately, curtailing the perception that cultural detachment around the topic exists in our society.
An impression that forced marriages are restricted to first and second generation migrants also prevails in our society. The ethnic minority in Britain are so rooted in their respective communities that in actuality third and fourth generation and ethnically mixed children are also subjected to forced marriages. In certain cases children have been taken from Britain and forced into marriages. There is a debate raging on this topic at the moment about whether or not the definition of forced marriage should also take into account marriages where the victim is cheated into giving their consent either through false information or through the abstaining of crucial information.
Imkaan is a national organisation which focuses on the needs of BAME and refugee women and children who experience violence. One of their projects, funded by the Forced Marriage Unit, is a peer education initiative to work across diverse communities, aiming to help Turkish, South Asian, Middle Eastern, African and Irish Travelling people affected by forced marriage and partner violence. Their work has often faced resistance from community and religious leaders who were worried it would further contribute to the wider society, the pre-existing negative idea of their communities. What is worrying is that the peer educators employed a thoroughly ignorant attitude to addressing these concerns by placing them in the context that these practices are non-community specific and more about violence against women and girls. Although their work is certainly commendable, this demonstrates a thorough lack of awareness on part of local authorities.
Tackling forced marriage is a priority for the Coalition government as it has stated on numerous occasions but many people have received frustratingly low local engagement by the government. Forced marriages frequently branch out to higher levels of HIV contraction, higher fertility rates, an increase in the acceptance of domestic violence or superiority from their partner, lower education attainment rates, being less skilled for work, high unemployment, poverty and deficient labour participation. The fundamental problem here is a lack of understanding among frontline workers and commissioners about the communities in which forced marriages take place.
Misconceptions about which particular ethnic groups are usually affected by forced marriage can lead to inconsistent support for women and girls. Engagement with communities where forced and arranged marriages are widespread is one positive step in involvement. There is already a genuine interest in having an open discussion about forced marriages especially at local workshops and surgeries held to bring about awareness as well as tackle the issue. Pupil and teacher engagement, an initiative by Southall Black Sisters, funded by the Comic Relief and Forced Marriage Unit and focusing on BAME women, looks into placing the subject of violence against women and girls into the national curriculum, demonstrating a pioneering framework to tackle the issue of forced marriages.Osmi Anannya