When investigations and trials are handled well, the legal system really can protect and empower survivors. But support services need to reach out to those at risk before the worst happens
Aisha K. Gill
Measures designed to counter forced marriage and bring to justice those who seek to force others into marriage are becoming increasingly visible in British criminal justice. And there is evidence that they’re beginning, finally, to bear fruit.
On 31 January 2020, a 55-year-old man was found guilty of forced marriage and of two counts of child cruelty at Birmingham Crown Court. He was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment. The man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, had attempted, at gunpoint, to force his 18-year-old niece into an arranged marriage while in Pakistan. His 43-year-old wife was also found guilty on one count of child cruelty and given a 12-month sentence, suspended for two years. Prior to the attempt to force her into a marriage in Pakistan, the young woman had suffered years of abuse and humiliation in the UK at the hands of her uncle and his wife.
One of the main challenges for prosecutions such as this one lies in overcoming the substantial barriers that prevent victims from reporting both forced marriage itself and their concerns about being at risk of being pushed into it. These barriers can take the form of patriarchal power systems, threats, and familial and community pressure and opprobrium.
For instance, in her powerful impact statement at the sentencing hearing, the Birmingham victim explained that the trial had been “extremely difficult” for her because she “feared for the safety of her family in Pakistan.” She also said that she had been pressured to drop the case and that expectations “from the community” to do so had continued even during the trial. She admitted that at times she had feared that the case would stop and that she would “never get justice.”
Just for the record: The view of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is clear: Bride and groom both need to give their permission to any marriage. Forced marriages are not permitted. (Arranged marriages, yes, but only with agreements of the couple).