Page last updated at 11:54 GMT, Thursday, 17 December 2009

Forced marriage law not being used enough

By Andrew Bomford
Radio 4's PM programme

Forced Marriage poster
A review found a "PC agenda" is stopping the message getting through

Laws introduced to stop forced marriages are not being used widely enough and social workers' efforts to tackle the issue are also being hampered, according to experts.

A year ago new legal sanctions came into force, but in some parts of England and Wales they have not been used at all.

Cultural sensitivity is being blamed for professionals sometimes failing to act when children are in danger of being forced into marriages against their will.

In November 2008 the government created Forced Marriage Protection Orders, which give wide powers to judges to order the arrest of a parent or family member threatening violence, or the seizure of travel documents if a young person under the age of 24 is about to be taken overseas.

In the first year of operation, 86 protection orders were issued, almost double the number the government was expecting.

Some cases involved girls as young as nine, but many dealt with cases of 15-18 year olds being forced into marriages against their will.

But use of the orders has been geographically patchy.

Five years ago it wasn't an area we were looking into at all, and clearly a lot of the reasons why we weren't was because people were so culturally sensitive
Carol Douch, Birmingham City Council

In North West England, for example, very few protection orders have been issued by the courts.

There have been none in Manchester, whereas in the Midlands Birmingham has issued 21 of them.

"We've had a quarter of the Forced Marriage Protection Orders for the whole of England and Wales," said Det Sgt Wendy Bird, of West Midlands Police.

"And it really all starts by educating your own staff, some of whom aren't even aware that it happens. So it's a lot about dispelling myths."

The government's Forced Marriage Unit has received reports from 1600 people in the last year, and most experts think the problem is much larger.

Forced marriage is often linked with so-called "honour" killings and domestic violence. Experts also stress that it is very different from arranged marriage, where consent is given.

"There's been a growing awareness about the problem in Birmingham in the last 18 months," said Carol Douch, Birmingham City Council's assistant director of Safeguarding.

"Five years ago it wasn't an area we were looking into at all, and clearly a lot of the reasons why we weren't was because people were so culturally sensitive and unaware of the differences between forced and arranged marriage."

School governors and heads of schools really need to drop the fear of being called racist
Shazia Qayam, Karma Nirvana

A government review of how the protection orders are working warned that a "PC agenda" could discourage intervention for fear of causing offence to Asian communities.

The review also expresses concern that schools are reluctant to participate in awareness raising among pupils for the same reasons.

"School governors and heads of schools really need to drop the fear of being called racist," said Shazia Qayam from the group Karma Nirvana in Derby, which helps victims of forced marriage.

"I approached the heads of four schools in Derby and asked them to put up a poster from the Forced Marriage Unit on the wall.

"I was told very clearly that they wouldn't do it because they didn't want to offend parents. To me that's being part of the problem."

She added that after she complained to the local newspaper and an article was printed, a girl who was about to being sent to India the following day for a forced marriage contacted them and they were able to rescue her.

You can hear the full report on PM, on Radio 4 or listen via BBC iplayer.



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SEE ALSO
Forced marriage helpline to close
18 Nov 09 |  England
Hidden world of forced marriage
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