The issue of forced marriages has been in the news again. The Times has reported this week on a worrying trend of adults with learning disabilities entering in to marriages with spouses from overseas. The suspicion is that the marriage is used to obtain a carer for the disabled spouse or to facilitate the immigration process for the other party to the marriage.
This is just one scenario of many in the secret world of forced marriages.
A forced marriage must be distinguished from an arranged marriage. In an arranged marriage the match may be instigated by someone other than the couple but the couple freely consent to the marriage.
In 2011 the Forced Marriage Unit gave advice and support on 1468 incidents relating to actual or possible forced marriages. Experts believe that the true scale of the problem is much greater than the reported incidents.
Those affected are often too afraid or ashamed to report the problem. Many do not want their relatives or friends to get into trouble.
The question arises - is criminalising forced marriage as the government plans the right way forward?
Does this step send out the message that our society will not tolerate this abusive behaviour, or will it deter victims from reporting abuse for fear of the consequences to themselves and the offender?
It is important for victims to know that under the current law they do have remedies. The victim or another person or agency (such as the NSPCC) can apply for a Forced Marriage Protection Order, FMPO. The FMPO can be made against a wider range of people and the Court has a wide range of powers to prevent a forced marriage taking place. The Court can make orders:
- ordering passports to be handed over
- stopping intimidation and violence
- stopping a person being taken abroad
- preventing contact
- allowing a change of name
- to provide information on the whereabouts of a person
Failing to comply with the order of the Court can lead to a punishment for disobeying a Court Order. This can be a fine or imprisonment or both.
If you are affected by this issue seek specialist legal advice.
By family law solicitor and Stephensons’ Partner, Victoria Melling
Stephensons offer legal advice and representation on this and all other family law issues. Call us on 0800 073 1324 for free initial advice.