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Forced marriage and the law – how individuals can protect themselves

Panorama recently highlighted the real issue of forced marriage which sadly, is still commonplace in some communities in the UK and the programme followed the plight of 19 year old ‘Sana’.

A British Asian, Sana was taken to Pakistan under the guise by her parents of attending university there however, while there, she overheard them discussing her being married to a man she hadn’t even met.

Sana contacted the British Consul in Pakistan who found her location and removed her from the family home and to a safe place before arranging for her return to the UK where she has decided to continue her life without her family.

For most individuals, this scenario is unimaginable and sounds like a fictional story beyond the realms of reality in 2015 Britain.

Forced marriage still happens today as Sana’s case showcases. It is recognised as such a significant problem that forced marriage became a criminal offence in June 2014 and the Home Office and Foreign & Commonwealth Offices formed the Forced Marriage Unit in 2005.

No less than 1,302 cases were dealt with by the Forced Marriage Unit in 2013 alone. In some families, this is part of tradition and individuals can be placed under enormous emotional, financial and even physical pressure to concede.

The law does offer protection for those who find either themselves, or someone they know, in these unfortunate circumstances. Prevention is better than cure as they say and in these difficult situations a Civil Remedies Order can be made. This will ensure that:

• The forced marriage is prevented from taking place in the first place

• The handover of passports or travel documents takes place if these have been confiscated preventing the individual from returning to or leaving the country for example

• The use of intimidation or violence against an individual to coerce them into agreeing to a marriage against their wishes is prevented

• If family or friends are unwilling to reveal the location of the victim, they are forced to do so

• An individual cannot be taken abroad against their wishes

If it’s too late and the forced marriage has already taken place, an annulment can be sought.

Perpetrators can also now be punished if they are found to have threatened in any way or forced someone into marriage on an involuntary basis. Individuals can now also be charged with a criminal offence – punishable by fines or even with a prison sentence – if they are found to have deceived an individual into marriage without their consent or taken them out of the UK under false pretences with the intention of forcing them into marriage.

Cultural and family pressures can make it extremely difficult for individuals to speak out to protect their right to choose if, when, and to whom, they marry but help is out there.

If you, or someone you know, is affected by this issue we have specialists in our family team who can help.

Find out more about our Family department
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