Statistics show that approximately 70% of marriages which take place between a British- Asian and a spouse from the Sub-Continent, are forced or involve an element of coercion. A recent Government study has projected a figure of 3,000 forced marriages a year, and we are told the reality is a lot worse. So what exactly is this practise and how has it been allowed to reach this level?
Forced marriage is a subject which has provoked much debate in recent years, but many people are still unaware as to what it actually constitutes: arranged, coerced, and forced marriages have all fallen under the same umbrella. The lack of distinction between these different matters highlights the absence of true understanding of the concept by many people. Furthermore, it indicates an unawareness of the cultural practises of the Asain Muslim community. Consequently, this has a bearing on how to deal with actual cases of injustice. It is MAT’s view that this problem can best be addressed by the Muslim community itself, but can this be done? And if so, how?
The introduction of the Forced Marriage Act 2007 was a step in the right direction, however, it is not the complete solution. It currently requires the victim to be proactive and come forward and apply for a protection order. But will all such victims be confident enough to apply for such an order at the risk of facing acts of recrimination by family members?
A more discrete approach would be more effective, however, the question arises as to whether an English judge dealing with such matters would be culturally sensitive enough to identify a genuine problem. Who is able to protect the interests of a potential victim whilst at the same time not curbing the genuine and legal practise of Asian Muslim community?
Due to MAT’s unique position within the Asian Muslim community, it is the ideal body through which to tackle the subject. MAT has published a paper on the matter in which we have outlined our proposals which, though not a complete solution, will nonetheless go a long way to restricting the number of forced marriages which take place.
The approach proposed by MAT is aimed at identifying coercion at an early stage and providing relief to the potential victim whilst at the same time ensuring that there is a minimum possibility of recriminations. The approach involves trained judges (of Asian backgrounds) interviewing not only the potential victim but also their family members and taking into account all relevant factors in arriving at a decision. If satisfied that there is no coercion involved, a certificate will be issued to that effect and which can be used as a supporting document when applying for the spouse’s visa. The judges are not required to provide reasons for their decisions and thereby avoiding the attribution of blame.