The Criminalisation of Forced Marriages

Forced MarriageAs citizens of the United Kingdom we can take pride in the fact that we live in one of the most liberal and tolerant societies in the whole world. This is one of the most fundamental reasons why so many people are attracted to the idea of coming to live here. Generally, British people really do try to be open to the cultures from other parts of the world, and the term ‘multiculturalism’ aptly describes the way in which people from many different backgrounds are able to live perfectly harmoniously.

However, there are certain issues connected with other cultures that infringe on our ideas of freewill. Forced marriages are foremost amongst these. Obviously, all parents like to imagine that their children will be marrying another person who is right for them – this is perfectly acceptable. It is when other cultures look to adhere to age-old traditions whereby it is customary for the parents to arrange a marriage without the full consent of their child that problems arise.

The case of the murder of Shafilea Ahmed has been linked to this exact problem. This poor girl’s body was dumped many miles away from her Warrington home, on a river bank in Cumbria, and this is believed to have been as a consequence of the fact that she refused to be forced into a marriage in Pakistan. It was revealed that Shafilea desperately wanted to live a more ‘Western’ lifestyle; she wanted to study to become a solicitor and definitely wanted to have the basic human right of being able to determine her own future spouse.

Shafilea’s parents have been charged with her murder, and much of the evidence in this case centred on song lyrics found in her bedroom which strongly expressed the fact that she “felt trapped”, as well as other information that showed how she was suffering domestic violence inflicted by her parents due to her refusal to comply with their wishes.

Alas, with Asian families especially, this type of case may be far more widespread than we think. In fact, some Home Office estimates have suggested that as many as 8,000 people a year may be forced into arranged marriages. With this in mind, the Prime Minister, David Cameron, in conjunction with the Home Secretary, Teresa May, are proposing the full criminalisation of forced marriages.

The organisation Freedom Charity has welcomed these proposals and fully acknowledges the fact that this type of situation cannot be permitted to carry on any longer. However, many other people worry that forced marriages will be pushed more underground. Such issues are already believed to be tackled sufficiently through the existing Forced Marriages Act. Victims will not wish to see their parents and other members of their family faced with a criminal record and sanctions which could be up to two years’ imprisonment. 

The vast majority of people maintain that the existing legislation does not go far enough, though. Given the fact that this country looks to protect fundamental human rights as far as possible, issues being forced underground could never be a good enough reason for not passing a law that looks to redress massive infringements in the first place. The police and other organisations who deal with the matter of arranged marriages realise that they will need to work much harder in learning how to identify when such issues exist. It is common practice for these types of families to remain closed and guarded where crimes within are concerned. Professional agencies will just need to become more adept at penetrating these protective shields and ensuring they arrive at the truth.