Recently, the British Government revealed that during 2017 there were around 1200 cases of forced marriage officially recorded, of which more than 30% of victims were of less than 18 years of age. Those involved came from countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Somalia and India.
At the end of May, a court in Birmingham, United Kingdom, sentenced a woman who had forced her daughter to get married in Pakistan to four years and 6 months in prison.
The case, which shook the city and the rest of the country, is the second of its kind brought before a British court and the first in which the accused is a relative of the victim.
The identity of those involved was not disclosed for legal reasons and to avoid further damage to the young woman, but the story was published by the local and international press.
According to official reports, in September 2016 the defendant, 45, promised to take the 17-year-old girl on holiday to Pakistan and to buy her a new mobile phone, but once there she forced her to marry a 33-year-old man.
According to prosecutor Deborah Gould, the victim, a vulnerable girl with learning difficulties, refused, but was psychologically abused and manipulated by her mother, who assaulted her and threatened to burn her passport.
The husband was an individual with whom the mother had reached an agreement when the girl was 13, during another trip.
On that occasion, the child became pregnant and was made to have an abortion when she returned to the UK.
What happened was later reported by the victim’s father, who was unaware of what happened because he was divorced from the mother, and the young girl was able to return to British territory with the help of the authorities.
On issuing the sentence, Judge Patrick Thomas claimed that the mother acted in her own interests and treated her daughter cruelly, without caring that she felt alone, scared, and held against her will.
A study published by the Home Office specified that 930 women were forced into marrying, which represents 77.8% of the total; while 256 men were in a similar situation.
Although the number reported last year is lower than in 2016 (1428), the document states that stated figure is much lower than the real one, as in many cases those assaulted do not go to the authorities.
The reports produced by the unit in charge of dealing with this problem are based on complaints or calls made by social workers, non-governmental organisations, people within the community, friends, family members or the injured parties themselves.
Most of the time (almost 80%), the fact is reported by third parties, which is due, among other aspects, to the vulnerability of those violated, the fear of reprisals from their aggressors (partners and relatives) and of rejection and discrimination from society.
Since its foundation in 2005, the Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) annually deals with more than a thousand cases of citizens of all ages who are subjected to this practice and suffer coercion, violence and threats.
Many of them are physically and/or psychologically attacked, pressured economically or according to norms established by religions or ideologies. In 2017, 12% of those wronged were people with learning difficulties. According to the FMU, the majority of the reports come from London, where last year 351 such violations were reported, 10% more than in 2016. Although this group notes that this phenomenon isn’t a problem stemming from a specific country or culture, research indicates that most of the cases registered in the United Kingdom involved people from nations such as Pakistan (36.7%), Bangladesh (10.8%), Somalia (7.6%) and India (6.9%).
Overall, the British authorities have dealt with aggressors and victims from 90 states from all continents.
Last year, 120 unions of this kind took place in the United Kingdom, without the involvement of any foreign factor.
For these reasons, the FMU is as active in this country as it is abroad, with the help of consulates and embassies.
Although support from humanitarian organisations is also received, the complexity of the situation makes it difficult to obtain an accurate picture of the problem and provide all victims with the required help.
In the United Kingdom, the law avoided prosecuting relatives until 2012, when the administration of the Prime Minister at the time, David Cameron, considered this crime as a form of exploitation and slavery and backed a regulation that establishes penalties of up to seven years in prison for those convicted.
However, according to investigations which have been carried out, very few complaints end in the sentencing of the accused due to, among other factors, the fears of those attacked, who often decide to withdraw their claim.
According to the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (Unicef), poverty, insecurity, lack of education and deeply rooted gender inequality and stereotypes can be found among the causes of this scourge. Armed conflicts and humanitarian emergencies are aggravating factors.
Furthermore, the organisation points out that some of the consequences of this phenomenon are the violation of fundamental rights, separation from family and friends, the lack of freedom to form relationships with people of the same age and the reduction of opportunities for receiving education. (PL)
(Translated by Hannah Phelvin-Hartley – (Email: firstname.lastname@example.org) – Photos: Pixabay