Forced marriage convictions are welcome but for many victims stigma is still judge and jury

Gangoli, The Conversation, June 8, 2018

In the
four years since a change in the
regarding forced marriages in England and Wales, there have been
two cases where parents have been convicted of forcing their daughters to marry
by taking them out of the country to their countries of origin.
marriage is still common in some cultures, but younger generations reject it. Rahul Ramachandram/Shutterstock

One case,
in Birmingham in May 2018, involved taking a daughter to Pakistan,
the other – in Leeds, also in May 2018 – involved a couple luring their
daughter to Bangladesh
for a forced marriage. These were the first convictions of their kind in
England. In 2015, a man was jailed for forced marriage (among other offences)
after a Welsh court found he had raped and
a woman into marrying him.

cases are remarkable, not least for the courage demonstrated by the young
survivors in speaking out. But to what extent do these judgements represent
justice in the eyes of those who have survived forced marriage – and what
hurdles must they overcome to obtain it?
research team at the Centre for
Gender and Violence Research
at the University of Bristol have
researched forced marriage as part of the wider work on justice, inequality and
gender-based violence. A key issue that emerged from our interviews with
survivors was that those escaping forced marriage felt a strong sense of
injustice, often experienced as a sense of loss of identity, and loss of
belonging with their family.
Earlier research
drawn up for a report into
honour violence
by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary found
that survivors of forced marriage are hesitant to approach the police and seek
criminal justice relief due to fear of reprisals, particularly of being
ostracised by their community.
Yet most
victims of forced marriage are coerced into the marriage by parents, siblings
and wider family members through a range of physically and emotionally abusive
behaviours. Most significantly there is a lack of acceptance that young women
have a right to self-determination, particularly in the choice of their
partner. Our current research on justice lends further weight to this –
survivors we interviewed explained that the lack of acceptance by the wider
community of their right to their own life was itself a form of injustice.
voices of unwilling wives
survivor was a British woman of Pakistani origin, forced into marriage with a
man, in and from her country of origin, who escaped the marriage and divorced
her husband, but felt that she was still treated as married by the community
before she managed to obtain a religious divorce. She stated:
I just
wanted that piece of paper [divorce] because that’s the way the community see
it and I want it, you know .. He’s claiming I’m his wife … you see there’s
technically no divorce so he’s continuing to claim that.
She also
felt that the community’s stigmatising of her was unfair:
I was
blamed, I was seen as the bad one, I was being further targeted as somehow not
doing what I should do as a dutiful daughter, wife or whatever.
British Asian women, the fear of and experience of isolation was a barrier in
escaping forced marriage situations. A young British woman with Bangladeshi
heritage, who was forcibly taken to Bangladesh for marriage reflected on her
situation at the time:
friends [in the UK] were very concerned, they didn’t know what was going on … I
did write to them but I didn’t know if my letters did got sent.
British Asian woman, who had escaped a forced marriage at age 13 and is now in
her 30s, has had no contact with her birth family, due to her decision to
refuse the marriage.
Because I
was shunned I left home, it was a choice I had to make … Because you’ve taken
away my culture, my identity away from me by not allowing me to be … in contact
… I couldn’t have contact with my siblings … And I think that is unfair.
Earlier research
has also indicated that while there are multiple factors that lead to forced
marriage, immigration plays an important role – young women living in Britain
are often forced into marriage with men from their countries of origin in order
to make it easier for those men to immigrate to the UK. Forced marriage
survivors argued that current marriage visa policy is discriminatory and, in
addition, is a form of gendered discrimination, as one British Asian woman
And now
he’s even got a visa on the backing of me … he should not have a visa, he’s got
that falsely, using my marriage certificate … he forced me to go in and sign
papers you know … why can’t that just go even if they can’t get him.
we’ve found is that survivors of forced marriage and other forms of
gender-based violence value the involvement of the police and ultimately
criminal intervention. Timely response from the police at the point of crisis
is particularly appreciated – and can be what prevents a young woman from being
forcibly removed from the country. But the fact remains that complexity – of
these women’s ethnicity and feelings of identity toward their country of
origin, of immigration laws, and of their place at the heart of a family and
wider community – mean that, for many, justice eludes them.