New Study by Lincoln and Bristol Universities Sheds Light on Forced Marriages in England and Wales, Advocates for Enhanced Protection

New Study by Lincoln and Bristol Universities Sheds Light on Forced Marriages in England and Wales, Advocates for Enhanced Protection

New Study by Lincoln and Bristol Universities Sheds Light on Forced Marriages in England and Wales, Advocates for Enhanced Protection

(IN BRIEF) A study conducted by the University of Lincoln and University of Bristol has revealed that forced marriages continue to be a widespread issue in England and Wales. The research focused on Forced Marriage Protection Orders (FMPOs), which aim to prevent forced marriages, and uncovered the scale of the problem while proposing crucial measures to better protect victims. Forced marriages, classified as a form of domestic violence, often lead to further crimes, including rape. The study highlighted the pressure forced marriages place on police forces and local authorities across the country. Key findings included the vulnerability of individuals aged 16-21, with victims as young as 11, and the occurrence of forced marriages in various communities beyond South Asian or Middle Eastern diasporas. The research recommended gaining an understanding of more subtle forms of coercion, enhancing safeguarding between agencies, and implementing systems to address post-FMPO expiration pressures. The report was presented to MPs and frontline safeguarding services at the House of Commons.

(PRESS RELEASE) BRISTOL, 18-May-2023 — /EuropaWire/ — A groundbreaking study has unveiled the pervasive presence of forced marriages in England and Wales, shedding light on the urgent need for reforms to safeguard victims. The research, focusing on Forced Marriage Protection Orders, a civil injunction aimed at preventing forced marriages, highlights the extent of the issue and proposes crucial measures to enhance victim protection.

Forced marriage, characterized by the absence of consent from one or both parties, is categorized as a form of domestic violence that often leads to additional crimes such as rape. The study, jointly led by the University of Lincoln and the University of Bristol, emphasizes the immense strain that forced marriages place on police forces and local authorities across the nation.

Family courts are currently granting Forced Marriage Protection Orders (FMPOs) daily in an effort to address the problem. Over the past decade, approximately 250 FMPOs, equivalent to around five per week, have been approved each year.

Co-lead author Aisha K. Gill, Professor of Criminology at the University of Bristol, explained, “This research reveals that Forced Marriage Protection Orders are a double-edged sword. While they can prevent forced marriages and safeguard victims, they can also escalate the risk of honor-based violence, including abduction, physical assaults, and rape.”

Key findings from the research, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, include:

  1. The most common age range for individuals subjected to forced marriages was 16-21, with victims as young as 11.
  2. People with disabilities and those identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, Trans, queer+ (LGBTQ+) were particularly vulnerable to forced marriages.
  3. Forced marriages were found to occur not only within South Asian or Middle Eastern diaspora communities but also in Irish, Nigerian, Somali, and other communities.
  4. In extreme cases, attempts to prevent forced marriages have resulted in perpetrators fleeing the country, kidnapping victims, issuing threats of violence, and committing acts of torture and rape.
  5. Since the legal minimum age for marriage in England and Wales was raised to 18 earlier this year, any actions intended to cause a child to marry, even without coercion, are considered forced marriage.

Project lead Sundari Anitha, Professor of Gender, Violence, and Work at the University of Lincoln, emphasized, “While this recent legal change represents a step towards preventing forced marriages, we must ensure that existing provisions effectively protect victims. Although Forced Marriage Protection Orders offer an injunctive remedy with great potential, further work is required to fully harness their benefits.”

The research drew upon data from nearly 600 case files from police forces nationwide. It involved the analysis of approximately 40 reported FMPO judgements and over 50 interviews with practitioners, victims, and survivors of forced marriages. This comprehensive approach provided a detailed understanding of the gaps in protection and proposed strategies to address them.

The main recommendations put forth by the research are:

  1. Developing an understanding of more subtle forms of coercion, such as emotional pressure, as well as emerging types like institutional imprisonment in foreign countries.
  2. Implementing improved and coordinated safeguarding measures between different agencies, which continue even after obtaining an FMPO.
  3. Establishing systems to flag and follow up when FMPOs expire, as this is often when the pressure to marry resurfaces.

The interviews with victims and analysis of police case files provided unique insights into the traumatic experiences associated with forced marriages. For example, one case involved a 17-year-old Indian girl residing in the UK who, after being raped, faced pressure from her parents to agree to marriage as a means to overcome family shame. She eventually sought

police assistance, leading to the issuance of an FMPO that enabled her to avoid the forced marriage and find secure accommodation.

Another case involved a 20-year-old Saudi woman, raised in the UK, who revealed her same-sex relationship to her family. She was deceived into returning to her parents’ home, where she overheard plans to send her back to Saudi Arabia for a forced marriage. Subjected to repeated choking and exorcism attempts by her father, she managed to escape with the help of her girlfriend. After obtaining an FMPO, she found safe housing in a confidential location, where she is currently rebuilding her life.

A third case concerned a 21-year-old Somali man living in London, whose parents reluctantly consented to his marriage to his Somali girlfriend. However, upon discovering their son’s smoking habit and disapproval of his wife’s attire and Western lifestyle, his parents escorted him back to Somalia under the pretext of his grandmother’s illness. There, he was imprisoned in a “cultural rehabilitation center” and coerced to divorce his wife and marry a woman of their choice. With the assistance of his wife, he contacted the police, who sought an FMPO requiring his parents to bring him back to the UK, where he was reunited with his wife.

Professor Anitha remarked, “These orders differ from other injunctions for domestic violence, as victims seeking FMPOs often continue living in their family homes or maintain contact with their perpetrators, who are typically their parents. By ensuring continued collaboration among services after an order is granted, a protective shield can be created to ensure ongoing safety. Treating FMPOs as standalone solutions can expose victims to further harm.”

Professor Gill added, “Factors such as insufficient awareness regarding the complex coercive pressures faced by victims/survivors, gaps between agencies, challenges in multi-agency collaboration, and limited access to services due to financial constraints often hinder the provision of effective support. When agencies work together and practitioners comprehend these lived realities, the risks associated with Forced Marriage Protection Orders can be minimized.”

The research report was presented to UK’s Members of Parliament and representatives from various frontline safeguarding services at the House of Commons this week.

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SOURCE: University of Bristol


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