At the beginning of August, The Forced Marriage Unit published statistics on the number of cases reported to it in 2021, both via its public helpline, and email. The Forced Marriage Unit advise support those who are in or are potentially likely to find themselves in a forced marriage.
They revealed that they received 337 reports of or related to a possible forced marriage and/or possible female genital mutilation just for that time period.
They also published the fact that 35% of the case reported to them involved victims under 18 and a further 16% involved victims with mental capacity concerns.
What may surprise the public is that (26%) of the reported cases involved male victims. One tends to imagine that this a case where only females are affected, but the reality is that this is just not true, and it is important to bear that in mind. The key point is that the victim does not consent to the marriage or when underage does not have the capacity to so do.
A vulnerable party can apply for a forced marriage protection order (FMPO) which acts as an injunction. It prevents (amongst other orders available to the court) the perpetrator from removing the victim from this jurisdiction and applies whether or not the victim is being threatened with a marriage, or is already in a forced marriage.
The application is available on an emergency basis and whilst the provision for this is laudable – it cannot be anything other than commended – there remains the issue of the support network to the victim which is often lacking.
The order when made does have “teeth” insofar as if the order is breached by a perpetrator, he or she could find themselves in a committal hearing the ultimate sanction for which is imprisonment for up to five years.
It is not surprising that making an application is a draconian step and nearly always quite frightening hence the courts do their best to make the process as smooth as possible to address concerns such as being in the same room as the perpetrator (video links are offered) or allowing screens.
Given this area of law is covered by the definition of Domestic Abuse (it encompasses psychological, as well as physical) legal aid is available. The court will require you to complete an FL401A form with a statement in support. If the victim is seeking an application be made in the first instance without the other side knowing the statement must set out why- however it should be made clear that our courts do not make permanent one-sided orders- the matter will have to come back on notice. Any order made without notice will only ever be a temporary holding position.
There are hurdles to navigate such as service of any order and ensuring the statement contains salient evidence necessary for the court to make its decision
It is a situation which has long been with us. The government recognises it for what it is, domestic abuse.
One hurdle, however, is that this legislation and support has had little airtime – there may well be victims who don’t know about this and who do not know who to turn to for support whilst this is ongoing. What the government might want to consider is some sort of publicity drive as they did with “Angela”, the code word to get out of a potentially dangerous situation on a date. Bar staff are in some places aware of this and in the toilets, we can sometimes see posters saying, “ask for Angela”. Clearly pub toilets are not the answer, but the government could liaise with those ethnic groups most likely to have potential victims as to how and best to get their message across.