Misplaced political correctness is hampering efforts to halt forced marriage in the UK, according to a major new report commissioned by Plan as part of the 'Because I am a Girl' Campaign.
The report 'Ending Forced Marriage', by think-tank Demos, calls for better coordination between government departments, learning from our experiences in the field, and a focus on prevention, rather than prosecution after forced marriages have occurred. It comes after the Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) reported 1,468 calls nationally last year and calls for greater awareness in schools and communities to prevent young girls being taken abroad to marry against their will.
“Criminalising forced marriage is necessary but insufficient - prevention is the key,” says report co-author Max Wind-Cowie.“Community awareness is the only way to stop some young girls’ summer holiday abroad becoming a life sentence.”
The report recommends an overhaul of the approach to stopping forced marriages, connecting efforts to prevent them abroad and in the UK. Overseas work – currently carried out by the Department for International Development – should be linked to community-level efforts, overseen by the Forced Marriage Unit.
“We welcome the Government keeping the forced marriage debate in the public eye but feel Britain can do far more to learn from the international experience of our work, and that of similar organisations,” says Plan UK’s chief executive Marie Staunton. “We need a coordinated approach locally, nationally and internationally. Otherwise we will continue to fail children.”
Although the Coalition Government has made the issue a priority, the authors argue that lack of understanding and misplaced cultural sensitivities are hampering intervention.
One of the most troubling findings is an alarming level of confusion among public servants and community leaders as to what constitutes forced marriage. A distinction must be made between 'forced' - where a young woman may be tricked into marriage or married under duress - and 'arranged', involving consultation with both parties.
More than 60 per cent of callers to the National Honour Helpline run by charity Karma Nirvana had not reported their situation to the police, doctors, teachers or the FMU. And there is evidence of low awareness among public servants and frontline workers of Forced Marriage Protection Orders or the legal status of forced marriage.
The report recommends:
- Compulsory training to help teachers and front line public sector workers such as health visitors to be prepared to address suspected instances of forced marriage.
- Establish regional liaison officers for the FMU to build local level support with direct links to central government
- Give DfID a role alongside the Home Office and Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the FMU to strengthen the unit further with more emphasis on prevention and the work British NGOs carry out overseas
- Make violence against women a Cabinet-level issue with the Home Secretary able to set the direction for prevention across departments
- Introduce compulsory training for public servants who work with victims and potential victims of forced marriage
- Engage Commonwealth partners to build international pressure for a workable action plan against forced marriage and a multinational prevention strategy.
“The Forced Marriage Unit must be supported to go beyond Whitehall and deep into the communities where forced marriage occurs,” says Mr Wind-Cowie.
“Positive inroads are being made - more men and boys are reporting instances of forced marriage, but we’re also worried that tough economic periods - in the UK and abroad - can contribute to an increase in the number of forced marriages.”
Download 'Ending Forced Marriage' Demos report
Find out more about Plan's work to end early and forced marriage.