Forced marriage is an appalling and indefensible practice and is recognised in the UK as a form of violence against women and men. It is a serious abuse of human rights and, where children are involved, child abuse. Victims of forced marriage can suffer physical, psychological, emotional, financial and sexual abuse, including being held captive unlawfully, assaulted and repeatedly raped.
The UK continued to lead globally in tackling forced and early marriage through the work of the Forced Marriage Unit – a joint initiative of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Home Office. This is coordinated closely with the UK Government’s wider work to tackle violence against women and girls. The Forced Marriage Unit supports victims of any nationality in the UK, as well as helping British nationals who are at risk abroad. The unit helps people who have already been forced into marriage and are being forced to sponsor a visa for their spouse.
In 2011, the Forced Marriage Unit provided help and support in 1,468 cases of potential or actual forced marriage; 78% of these calls were regarding female victims and 22% involved men. Victims under the age of 18 were involved in 29% of cases, and 4.5% involved victims with disabilities. Minors accounted for 298 cases. This work often involved helping victims return to the UK. For example, one 19-year-old boy was rescued from a city in South Asia having been told that he was going to be forced to marry his cousin. He had recently told his family in the UK that he was gay. He contacted the Forced Marriage Unit in London who worked with our High Commission to find him safe accommodation, an emergency travel document and a flight back to the UK. He is now rebuilding his life away from his family.
The Forced Marriage Unit worked closely with NGOs and community groups to increase the protection and support available to victims of forced marriage in the UK. For example, in November, they provided funding for the development of a range of social media projects including web pages, text messaging and smartphone applications to raise awareness and support peer mentors.
Embassies and high commissions around the world continue to conduct outreach programmes aimed at tackling the practice of forced and early marriage. For example, in 2011, the British High Commission in Islamabad funded local NGO SACH (Struggle for Change) to run a major awareness campaign. They ran workshops for local government officers and human rights activists.
The UK continues to lobby internationally for commitment to tackling forced and early marriage. At the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth in October, the UK worked with the NGO Plan UK and the Royal Commonwealth Society to secure Commonwealth commitment to addressing child and forced marriage for the first time.
In October, Prime Minister David Cameron announced plans to criminalise the breach of Forced Marriage Protection Orders (FMPO) in the UK. He set out proposals for a public consultation on the criminalisation of forced marriage. This was launched by the Home Secretary in December and will run until March 2012.