Select Committee on Home Affairs Sixth Report

4  Prevention

"There should be more energy put into preventing domestic abuse rather than just reacting to it" - eConsultation respondent

In this section we consider ways in which domestic violence, "honour"-based violence and forced marriage could be prevented. We look in particular at the need for a Government information campaign to increase public awareness, the role of schools in educating children on relationships, possible changes to immigration rules to prevent forced marriages, and engaging in dialogue with communities about harmful interpretations of "honour".

Raising public awareness through information campaigns

56. Our witnesses told us that there was a need to raise public awareness of domestic violence, and in particular the less well understood issues of "honour"-based violence and forced marriage. In relation to "honour"-based violence, Nazir Afzal, Director of the Crown Prosecution Service London West, said:

The main obstacle is the lack of awareness, the lack of education, around this issue. As much as I have been talking about it—and [others have] for many years—there are still people who are surprised by it. There is a need to make sure that everybody is familiar with the issues, everybody is aware that this is an issue not of honour, it is an issue of power and control—ultimately, as long as you put it in the context of human rights, and not just women's rights, people are prepared to listen.[57]

District Judge Marilyn Mornington told us:

There has been a total lack of understanding of how deep the concepts of Izzat[58] and honour dictate the lives of many people in our communities, particularly those of south Asian backgrounds. It has nothing to do with religion.[59]

57. The Government has run three previous campaigns on domestic violence, focusing variously on victims and their children, the role of third parties, and on police enforcement.[60] The Forced Marriage Unit ran a campaign in 2006 aimed at raising awareness of forced marriage.[61] Previous multi-media information campaigns, nationally and locally, seem to have been effective in raising awareness. For example, a survey conducted by Women's Aid to inform our inquiry reported that 82% of respondents had seen at least one local or national domestic violence awareness-raising campaign, and around 80% thought that campaign had been effective.[62]

58. Contributors to our eConsultation set out for us some of the key messages which a campaign to raise awareness should highlight. Several stressed the need to help victims understand that they are victims:

"I honestly thought it was normal for men to hit...I feel women need to know that even if they raise their voice it is not OK for a man to physically hit them" - amosemper

  "The victim needs to realise that they are indeed a victim. Many of us didn't know that is what we were. I thought my abuser had anger issues he had to work through and that the abuse he showed towards me was my own fault for "winding him up" - mari

  "I was not aware that I was a victim of DV. I was raped by my ex (but my line of thought there was, can a husband rape his wife?) surely they were his rights? I believed that what went on indoors was between a husband and his wife, for better or worse, unfortunately half the population agrees with me...until we recognise the abuse we are living in you are banging your head against the wall" - survivor76

59. British Crime Survey data shows that over 60% of victims confide in their friends and family,[63] making this group a key audience and those who may be best able to see warning signs of abuse. The Metropolitan Police Service/Metropolitan Police Authority cited a recent NSPCC campaign as a good example of how campaigns can direct victims, children, family and friends to sources of support, increase awareness more generally and raise funds for agencies.[64]

60. Other eConsultation respondents spoke of the need to educate perpetrators:

"In my own experience I firmly believe that the perpetrator of the abuse towards me felt that it was his right as a man to control and dominate 'his' woman. Unfortunately that is still a commonly held belief and it needs tackling at the roots" - claire-health

61. Joint University of Bristol and Home Office research on perpetrators of domestic violence found that "perpetrators interviewed said that adverts in newspapers and on the radio for services would be useful to highlight domestic abuse behaviour and direct them to services".[65]

62. Others said there needed to be greater awareness about forced marriage, in particular the difference between forced and arranged marriages:

"There needs to be a holistic approach, there needs to be a BIG campaign to highlight the issue, DV in diverse communities, particularly in Muslim communities is taboo, BME professionals supporting and campaigning to end violence are viewed as home wreckers, therefore, DV in ALL communities must be raised as crucially important as a crime" - anonymous

  "It is important to ensure an understanding of the difference between arranged and forced. Arranged is fine, I myself went through an arranged marriage. There were no pressures on me and I am in a happy relationship. Forced is different and we must understand the subtleties that work on this...emotional, psychological, physical etc" - anonymous

63. A great many victims of forced marriage and other forms of "honour"-based violence to whom we spoke said that they did not see themselves as victims, but rather as perpetrators of wrong doing against their families. Many said that they did not know that their marriage was forced and had no idea where to turn for support or information.

64. eConsultation respondants cited a number of hard-hitting recent Government campaigns as particularly effective. These included the NSPCC's 'Stop It Now' campaign against child abuse, 'THINK! Speeding Kills' driving campaign, and recent anti-smoking campaigns.[66] The Government's THINK! road safety publicity campaign provides a possible model for an integrated domestic violence campaign.[67] The THINK! campaign has its own communications strategy, budget, and runs regular high-profile campaigns on issues including drink driving and speeding, across television, radio and other media. An independent evaluation of the campaign in 2007 found that half (52%) of respondents said they had recently seen advertising about road safety and half (49%) said THINK! was making a difference to road safety. [68]

65. We heard lots of innovative ideas for communicating information, including publicising information on bus and car park tickets and in women's toilets, local radio interviews and an awareness-raising session with the local GP forum. One respondent to our eConsultation cited Australia and New Zealand as successful models and provided links to hard-hitting videos from campaigns in those countries. These could provide good models for a UK campaign.[69]

66. An important note of caution was sounded by several witnesses. Any co-ordinated information campaign must ensure that phone-lines, support agencies and perpetrator programmes are allocated sufficient resources to deal with the corresponding surge in demand for their services.[70]

67. The evidence we heard from survivors about the ignorance they faced from many quarters, coupled with widespread under-reporting, persuades us of the need for at least one major public information campaign. We consider that in the UK a number of different campaigns would be valuable, targeting different audiences, including the following:

(a) A general public awareness campaign to target victims, including male victims, and friends and family. This should emphasise the nature of abuse, educate friends and family on warning signs, and publicise support.

(b) A campaign specifically on forced marriage and other forms of "honour"-based violence. The Government should make full use of feedback from survivors, starting with that gathered through our eConsultation, to design key messages and media.

68. The Government should consider implementing an overall communications strategy for domestic violence, including "honour"-based violence and forced marriage. This could perhaps be developed along the lines of the THINK! Road Safety campaign, which is well recognised and has wide coverage.

69. Any concerted campaign will increase demand for victim's services, in particular emergency help lines and accommodation. These services must be sufficiently well-recourced to meet any surge in demand arising from public information campaigns.

Education in schools

"Education, Education, Education is the's not too late for the children"

- eConsultation respondent

70. There is no explicit statutory requirement for schools to educate pupils about domestic or "honour"-based violence or forced marriage. Schools are encouraged to cover the issues within discussion of relationships under personal, social and health education (PSHE),[71] or within citizenship classes. However, PSHE is not a curriculum requirement for schools and informal feedback from voluntary sector organisations suggests that in practice many schools who do teach PSHE do not opt to cover domestic violence. The Government's Best Value Performance Indicator (BVPI) 225, which required schools to have a resource pack on domestic violence but set out no obligation to use it, has recently been withdrawn. Nicola Harwin of Women's Aid explained that as a consequence:

There are [now] no government indicators for which local authorities have to report that have any requirement to do anything in relation to public awareness, education, the provision of information or anything else of that nature in relation to domestic abuse or honour-based crime.[72]

71. In a special survey of 302 Women's Aid member organisations carried out for our inquiry, respondents were asked whether or not, to their knowledge, local schools specifically addressed domestic violence. The results can be seen in the table below.[73]

Table 1: Survey of Women's Aid member organisations: domestic violence education in schools

Include within PSHE/Citizenship curriculum



Have a domestic violence policy/procedure



Identified member of staff for DV issues



Work on violence and gender equality issues



Address in any other way



72. Survivors of forced marriage told us that they had not received any education at school about the issue, and emphasised the importance of information as a prerequisite for gaining access to support:

Imran: At that age, 15, there was nothing to teach you about forced marriages and domestic violence. If I had realised there was any support there I would have got it, but at that age I did not know if I had a choice at the age of 15. For me it was education strongly.[74]

Ajmal: When I was growing up mainly in schools you did see posters for drug abuse and for females if there is any help out there, but as a male I did not see any posters about who I could speak to. It was just one of those things. I just did not want anyone to laugh at me because you had never seen it on TV and never seen any male support out there or refuges. It was making it difficult because it was never advertised on TV and you do not know where you can get help from.[75]

Abuse in teenage relationships

73. We heard about significant levels of domestic violence between teenagers. Respondents to our eConsultation outlined worrying attitudes held by some young people towards violence in intimate relationships:

"More and more young girls seem to regard being hit by their boyfriends as a badge of honour. Showing them where this type of attitude can lead and how it affects those around them would be a start" - peri249

In one survey of 2,039 14-21 year olds in Scotland and North-West England almost half the young men and a third of young women envisaged circumstances where they thought it would be acceptable for a man to hit a female partner. One in eight young men considered 'nagging' as justification for violence and one in five were tolerant of forced sex between partners.[76]

74. To date, there has been very little research into the behaviour patterns and needs of young perpetrators, and under-18s are excluded from the current Government definition of domestic violence. However, Respect has recently been awarded funding by the DCSF Children and Young People's Fund, for a 3 year project to develop work with children and young people (under 21) who use abusive behaviours in their intimate relationships. A major research study, funded by the Big Lottery Fund and NSPCC, is also being carried out to investigate young people's experiences of physical, sexual and emotional forms of dating violence.[77]

75. The Government's current definition of domestic violence excludes 16-18 year olds.[78] The Association of Chief Police Officers told us that this was a problem:

There is increasing comment directed to us from practitioners and professionals that by excluding persons under 18, vulnerable young people in abusive relationships are being deprived of the expertise and resources available to adults in similar circumstances.[79]

ACPO recommended an extension of the Government's definition to include "persons over the age of 16 who are or have been intimate partners and adults (i.e. over 18 years) in other familial relationships".[80]

76. We heard of concerning attitudes and abuse between young people in intimate relationships. However, 16-18 year olds are excluded from the current Government definition of domestic violence, there has been little research on the needs of teenage victims and perpetrators of domestic violence, and there is little support for under-18s in abusive relationships. The existence of abuse in teenage relationships further underlines the urgent need for effective early education on domestic violence and relationships.

77. We welcome the research being carried out by Respect and the NPSCC with the Big Lottery Fund. We recommend that the Government consider amending its definition of domestic violence to include under-18s.

Some schools have developed educative programmes

78. Some individual schools have introduced domestic violence into the classroom. Such educative programmes are very often the result of partnerships with local voluntary organisations, many of which develop and deliver educative programmes, both in schools and in the community. We heard examples of good practice, where the efforts of community organisations had been effective in reaching young people. For example, the Newham Asian Women's Project carries out targeted work with young people, including sessions in schools, local youth centres and at the Project's resource centre. Through working with five schools they reached 605 young women.[81]

79. Another example is provided by Domestic Violence Responses, a group of practitioners, teachers, researchers and drama specialists, which developed a tool kit and a PG film, "Spiralling", featuring abuse and control in a relationship between two teenagers. The story of the film was developed through a series of workshops with young actors from the National Youth Theatre. The toolkit contains activities and programmes of work for children and young people designed to help to prevent domestic violence and to promote gender equality. The interactive contents include drama, quizzes, discussion of the film (for young people over 11) and other information and resources for teachers and youth workers to use with children and young people from aged 5 and upwards. "Spiralling" is available online or from Safer Bristol, who commissioned the resource with funding from Government Office of South West in 2005 and are currently updating it. Domestic Violence Responses is working with the Greater London Domestic Violence Project to create guidelines for schools on how to locate prevention work within the curriculum.[82]

80. With regard specifically to forced marriage, the Department for Children, Schools and Families told us that some schools are providing information in a range of ways to their pupils. The DCSF identified some examples of good practice:

Schools in Oldham are displaying the poster.

Bristol local authority is working with its schools to make sure that posters are appropriately displayed.

In Luton, schools and the local authority have issued FMU cards instead, having found these to be more discreet and effective than posters.

Bradford local authority has issued the poster to its schools together with a Forced Marriage policy.[83]

But other schools seem reluctant to take action

81. However, we also heard of schools which had been reluctant to display materials or challenge attitudes about forms of domestic violence. Nicola Harwin, Chief Executive of Women's Aid, told us: "there is a lot of work being done on developing tools. That is not so much the problem. It is the will inside schools to deliver it and creating time for teachers".[84] An account of resistance by schools is provided by a refuge worker:

Domestic violence education in schools: a case study

Today myself and my colleague were asked to go to a school to talk to some 7-year old girl Brownies who were collecting breakfast boxes for the refuge where I work. Their teacher said we must not mention the words 'domestic violence', which I was a little irritated by, so we said that sometimes Mummies and children had to leave their homes and come to a secret house where no-one knew about where they were and sometimes had no clothes, no food etc.

One little girl asked the obvious question: "WHY"?

I thought, in for a penny, in for a pound, so I said that sometimes Daddies were not very nice to Mummies and they were scared to stay at home and so were the children, so they came to a secret house where Daddy couldn't find them. The teacher was obviously annoyed but the children suddenly went very quiet and put their hands up asking really grown up questions such as:

'What happens if the Daddy finds them?'

Do the children ever have to leave the Mummy and go back to the Daddy?

Who looks after the Daddy if you are looking after the Mummy and the children?

Can they have their friends for tea?

It went on and on. We answered as fully and truthfully as we could without scaring them. When it had finished we said to the teachers that, should the talk bring about any issues and they needed advice, they should ring us. The teachers only seemed concerned that the parents would complain!! I pointed out that with statistics being 1 in 4 women, then by the law of averages it may be happening to one or more of those children. They would not accept this.


Just at that point a little girl came up to us and said, 'If it is a secret house then how can I find you if I need to bring my mummy there?' She was close to tears. We said she should talk to a teacher and they could find us. We looked at the teacher, raised our eyebrows and watched her stunned reaction.[85]

82. We took extra evidence on the particular case of forced marriage which, some witnesses told us, schools were too sensitive to tackle openly for fear of upsetting parents or the local community. Karma Nirvana, a Derby-based community organisation which works with survivors of forced marriage, told us that "not one secondary school in Derby" would display a poster designed by the Government's Forced Marriage Unit. Karma Nirvana stated that "some of the reasons given for not displaying the poster were that they did not want to upset communities".[86]

83. A schools outreach worker attached to an Asian community-based project which we visited echoed this experience, telling us that she faced strict controls on discussing forced marriage in certain schools. Testimony on forced marriage from our eConsultation reflected a similar picture:

"Many schools will not give us the time of day for fear of upsetting parents. It is also quite telling that the schools most unwilling to talk to us are those in the areas that are probably most likely to have victims" - Fatema

84. We were extremely concerned about this apparent reluctance to address forced marriage in schools, and pursued the issue with the authorities in Derby and the Department for Children, Schools and Families. Derby City Council wrote to us to refute the allegations made by Karma Nirvana:

Three of our schools have been directly approached by Karma Nirvana, being schools with a high proportion of children and young people of Asian heritage. Of those three, two have engaged staff from Karma Nirvana to work directly in their schools as part of the PSHCE programmes around marriage. Furthermore, one of these is displaying the poster and associated leaflets. The third school approached by Karma Nirvana already has in place a planned scheme of work on marriage which includes educating children from all backgrounds about the issues associated with forced marriage.[87]

85. The DCSF surveyed schools in 14 local authority areas identified by the FMU as having a high incidence of forced marriage, to see what information on forced marriage was being displayed. It confirmed that, although some schools were displaying materials, others were reluctant to address the issue. For example, it stated that "in Birmingham, the poster has not been displayed as schools felt that the graphics are too 'hard-hitting'. Some schools in Leeds are displaying the posters, but others are concerned that they may offend some of their parents".[88]

86. A complicating factor in the debate about schools displaying the poster is that FMU publicity materials are currently not routinely distributed to schools but are available on request. Derby City Council said that:

The poster referred to has not actually been sent to schools. Rather, it is available on request from the Government's Forced Marriage Unit. The Unit tells us that schools usually become aware of their publications through their website or by word of mouth. It is not so much a case, therefore, of schools refusing to display the poster, but not being aware of the poster's existence.[89]

87. As a result of concern about materials not being displayed in schools, Kevin Brennan MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the DCSF, told us that his department would work with the Forced Marriage Unit to develop more 'school-friendly' materials, and "actively distribute these before the summer".[90]

Domestic and "honour"-based violence and forced marriage must be integrated into the curriculum

88. Research commissioned by the Home Office, which included evaluations of domestic violence projects in schools, indicated that for domestic violence to be addressed effectively in schools it should at the least be a core feature in personal, social and health education (PSHE), and preferably be included across the curriculum. It stated that it was crucial that teachers felt supported and able to deal with any issues arising from discussions in the class.[91] Witnesses including the Family Justice Council, NSPCC, Women's Aid, Refuge and Respect agreed that there was an urgent need to integrate education on domestic violence and forced marriage with the PSHE curriculum and to link it in with bullying, conflict resolution and healthy relationships.[92]

89. Some materials have also been developed for integrating discussion of domestic violence and forced marriage into a range of other subjects, such as history, geography, art and drama. For example, primary schools in Hounslow hold an annual competition where pupils are given the opportunity to design a poster, write a poem, or an article on the theme of domestic violence, with prizes for the winners.[93] Integrating domestic violence into other subject classes like this should provide useful alternatives where schools consider their PSHE curriculum not to allow enough time.

90. Children's advice service Childline has recently spoken out about the inadequacy of PSHE education, citing up to 50 calls a day to the helpline from children seeking advice on sex and relationships. The NSPCC, which runs Childline, called for PSHE to be made a compulsory part of the school curriculum, saying that lessons are currently provided 'patchily' across the country.[94]

91. Guidance provided by the Forced Marriage Unit for education professionals, which is currently being revised for reissue on a statutory footing this autumn, gives advice to schools on different ways of including forced marriage in the curriculum. Suggestions include discussing different types of marriage within PSHE, citizenship or religious knowledge classes; introducing discussions into English literature classes; or exploring the theme in drama classes.[95] Information provided to us by the DCSF about 14 local authority areas with high incidence of forced marriage showed that in some schools "the issue of forced marriage is not covered in PSHE", but others were using various methods to educate pupils, for example:

In Middlesbrough a member of the local authority's Ethnic Minority Service team currently delivers a programme to Black and Asian girls on raising self-esteem and this includes the issue of forced marriages. Schools are consulted on content and delivery of this programme.

Bristol Local Authority is developing an 'issues based' additional resource for schools to include in their PSHE programmes. Forced marriage will be one of the areas covered alongside other issues, e.g. rape, sexual exploitation, violence in relationships, grooming, female genital mutilation etc. The local authority plans to offer training to schools based on this resource, which will also cover how to spot the signs of forced marriage and awareness raising on how to intervene and who to contact.[96]

92. Kevin Brennan MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the DCSF, told us that "it is for schools to decide within the PSHE curriculum how to deal with these issues, and there is huge pressure on the curriculum across the piece to introduce all sorts of things as additional statutory burdens on schools".[97] However, he conceded that "obviously we need to look at improving PSHE" and stated that the question of including domestic violence in statutory sex education would be reconsidered as part of a current Government review of the delivery of sex and relationships education in schools.[98] This review is expected to be completed in July 2008.[99]

93. We acknowledge that there are areas of good practice in education in schools on domestic violence and forced marriage, and we welcome the initiative by the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) to design 'school-friendly' materials in conjunction with the Forced Marriage Unit. We recommend that the DCSF and FMU work together proactively to distribute these materials to all schools, rather than waiting for materials to be requested.

94. However, we were alarmed by the evident resistance of some schools and local authorities to displaying information, particularly on forced marriage. Whilst schools should retain discretion about the most appropriate way to display materials, it is clear from survivors' accounts that schools can provide a lifeline to vulnerable pupils by providing information on support services. We strongly recommend that the Department for Children, Schools and Families take steps to ensure that all schools are promoting materials on forced marriage, whilst allowing them to retain discretion on the details. We intend to follow up this issue.

95. Recent concern raised by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children over the inadequacy of sex and relationships education in schools serves to highlight further the need for better statutory education on these subjects. We recommend that the Department for Children, Schools and Families specifically consider education about relationships, domestic and "honour"-based violence and forced marriage as part of its current review of sex and relationships education in schools. We strongly urge the Department to recommend that education on these issues is explicitly made a part of the statutory school sex and relationships curriculum, rather than being left to the discretion of individual schools.

96. An emerging picture of violence between young people in intimate relationships demonstrates that it is not only schools which need to engage in educative work on domestic violence and forced marriage. Sixth forms, further education colleges and universities also must ensure that they provide information about support for students and run educative programmes about domestic violence and forced marriage.

97. Full use should be made of the expertise of local and national voluntary sector organisations to deliver educative programmes in schools and colleges, drawing in particular on good practice in areas such as Newham and Waltham Forest. These organisations should also be consulted in drawing up changes to the sex and relationships curriculum, and in training teachers, both of which we recommend in this report.

Amending visa application rules to prevent forced marriage

98. We considered ways in which amendments to the visa application procedures might help to prevent forced marriages taking place, or, in cases where a marriage has taken place to a non-British citizen, prevent the spouse gaining a UK visa.

UK residency as a contributory factor in forced marriage

99. The Forced Marriage Unit lists as one of several motives for forced marriage "assisting claims for residence and citizenship" in the UK.[100] The Minister for Consular Affairs, Meg Munn MP confirmed this, stating that procuring a UK visa for the spouse "is certainly one of the reasons but it is not by any means the only reason. There are many other reasons why forced marriages take place".[101]

100. Some of the survivors we heard from felt that procuring a UK visa was the primary motive behind their forced marriage. For example, Shazia Qayum argued that it was behind her parents' decision to force her into marriage:

Martin Salter MP: Is forced marriage used in many ways as a way of shortcutting the established immigration procedures?

Ms Qayum: Definitely. I see a lot of young women and men who tell us that forced marriages are used to get entrance to the UK. I quite clearly told my ex-husband that I did not want to be his wife and he told me he did not care, he just wanted to come to the UK.[102]

101. In other cases, however, we heard that, whilst procuring a UK visa is a factor in a forced marriage, the primary reason might be family commitment, or a desire to maintain ties with the country or community of origin. Some voluntary sector organisations which support forced marriage survivors argued that residency was not a primary factor. For example, Imkaan, an umbrella organisation for BME domestic violence women's services, said: "it is not the major rationale or the major reason why forced marriage occurs—there are many, many other reasons and a lot of it is, obviously, to do with power and control".[103]

102. Where residency is a motivation for forced marriage, the British partner might be pressured into sponsoring their spouse into the UK on a marriage visa. Marriage visas initially enable the spouse to remain in the UK for two years, after which the spouse can apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR). When a British citizen—the sponsor—applies for a marriage visa to bring his or her spouse into the country, the spouse is interviewed by immigration officials, but not the sponsor.

103. The majority of forced marriage cases dealt with by the Forced Marriage Unit concern Pakistani (65%) and Bangladeshi (15%) communities.[104] Pakistani and Bangladeshi, along with Indian, communities make up the biggest settled migrant communities in the UK. The FCO told us that in 2007 "in Pakistan, 11,022 spouse settlement applications were issued and 3,216 were refused. There will undoubtedly be cases of forced marriage concealed in the first figure."[105] Applications for spousal visas about which visa entry clearance officers raise concern are referred to the Foreign Office Consular Immigration Link (CIL) team. In 2007, 407 cases were referred to the CIL team in Pakistan. 193 of these related to forced marriage, and the others to other forms of family abuse.[106]

Using visa application procedures to tackle forced marriage is controversial

104. The appropriateness of amending visa application procedures to tackle forced marriage is disputed. Several organisations working with forced marriage victims, and domestic violence victims from BME communities, resist the idea that forced marriage can be tackled simply through such measures. They argue that to do so would not only be ineffective—a blunt instrument—but would also risk increasing prejudice against one community or ethnic group in particular, and effectively invite racism. For example, Southall Black Sisters, a campaign and support organisation for BME women, states the following about proposals from the UK Border Agency for changes to border control measures:

Although made in the name of tackling forced marriage, the proposals have nothing conceivably to do with addressing forced marriage and every thing to do with restricting the rights of certain communities. On principle, we object to an approach that consistently links violence against women in minority communities with immigration matters, as if such women have no intrinsic right to liberty and life unless they are addressed as an aspect of immigration control.[107]

The UK Border Agency is consulting on changes to visa application procedures

105. In December 2007 the UK Border Agency (then the Borders and Immigration Agency) published a consultation paper on certain changes to the marriage visa process, designed to help prevent forced marriage.[108] The consultation identified specific weaknesses in marriage visas which had been granted in cases of forced marriage, and made proposals to tackle these. The relevant proposals were summarised by the UK Border Agency in the following table:

Table 2: UK Border Agency proposals for changes to marriage visas, December 2007



Suggested benefits

Suggested risks

Young people may be pressured into sponsoring a partner from overseas.

The minimum age at which you can sponsor a person from overseas to come to this country be raised from 18 to 21. The same would apply to the person being sponsored.

Individuals establish themselves as independent adults in this country before sponsoring a partner

Young girls may be taken to live overseas until old enough to sponsor someone; there would be more time in which to pressure someone; and there may be resort to forged documents.


Require someone to declare their intention to sponsor a partner from overseas before they leave the UK to marry

Reduce pressure and give people a better chance to avoid a forced marriage


Many sponsors would like to give a confidential statement

Offer the sponsor [a reluctant sponsor] an opportunity to make a confidential statement about their sponsorship

Could help to identify patterns useful in resolving future cases

A confidential statement could not be produced as evidence and so could not be used to turn down a visa


Introduce a Code of Practice setting out how an application for a visa should progress if one of the parties is identified as being vulnerable to a forced marriage

A power would be attached to refuse the visa without the sponsor having to provide an evidential statement


We considered a number of these proposals during our inquiry.

Evidence on whether or not raising the age of sponsorship for a marriage visa would prevent forced marriage

106. One of the proposals from the UK Border Agency was to raise from 18 to 21 the minimum age for sponsoring a spouse into the UK on a marriage visa.[109] Witnesses held different views on whether raising the age would have a positive or detrimental impact. Imkaan argued that:

The increase in the age of sponsorship could lead to young people being taken abroad and kept there for long periods of time—i.e. until they turned 21. This would lead to these young people missing out on a life in the UK, and possibly even losing their freedom, for an even longer period of time than they do now.[110]

Jagdeesh Singh, brother of Surgit Athwal, victim of an "honour" killing, agreed:

I think it is a distraction. Shifting the age sounds good and simple, but on further examination it distracts. It is the forced marriage bit and whether it is a valid, meaningful marriage that needs to be scrutinised.[111]

107. However, some survivors felt that being two years older might equip them with more independence and ability to refuse an unwanted marriage. Ajmal, a survivor of forced marriage, told us:

I think myself it would help...I think they [the victim] will start understanding things a little bit more because they will be a bit more mature. At 18 they are just going to go along with their parents still.[112]

Jasvinder Sanghera, Director of Karma Nirvana, agreed, with a caveat: "In relation to raising the age, yes, but many victims do not even know they are making an application to become a reluctant sponsor. They need to know to ask the question".[113]

108. In 2004 the minimum age for sponsoring a spouse into the UK was raised from 16 to 18 years old. The Home Office commissioned research from the University of Bristol with forced marriage survivors and stakeholders to consider the impact of this change and the risk factors associated with raising the age further, from 18 to 21. This is the only research undertaken in the UK on the impact of raising the age of sponsorship. A summary of the research findings was made available to us.[114] Stakeholders perceived little or no change from raising the age to 18, although no quantitative data were available. The study found that raising the age could offer "greater maturity, access to education and financial independence for young people, all of which could leave them in a stronger position to resist forced marriage".[115] However participants warned that young people might be put at risk of greater physical and psychological harm, including "being taken abroad to marry and kept there forcibly until they are old enough to sponsor their spouses; entering the UK with false documentation; and implications for mental health, particularly attempted suicide and self-harm".[116] The study concluded that:

There was limited support for raising the age of sponsorship or entry further to either 21 or 24, with only 16% of stakeholders and 17% of survivors holding this view....[the] benefits were perceived by those consulted as being largely outweighed by the risks, with 88% of key individuals, 71% of stakeholders and 54% of survivors indicating this view.[117]

109. The experience of other European countries on raising the age of entry of a sponsor or spouse has proved inconclusive. In 2002 Denmark raised the age of sponsorship to 24, the highest minimum age in the European Union. Research carried out by the Danish National Institute of Social Research involved interviews with young people and parents from a representative sample of BME groups regarding the Danish '24 year' rule and possible impacts.[118] The research did not show that there had been an effect on the number of forced marriages, but did show a range of other possible or actual effects. These included preventing entry for people who are in love, or arranged, marriages but not subject to a forced marriage.[119] Some young people interviewed stated that the '24 year' rule made them feel 'targeted' and thus even less integrated into Danish society.

110. The testimony we heard from forced marriage survivors suggests that the desire to procure a marriage visa for a spouse can be an important factor in forced marriage. When we asked for their views on this issue, survivors told us that raising the age of sponsorship for marriage visas from 18 to 21 could better equip victims to refuse an unwanted marriage. However, associated with such a change is a significant risk that young people would be kept abroad for sustained periods between a marriage and being able to return to the UK with their spouse.

111. We have not seen sufficient evidence to determine whether or not raising the age of sponsorship would have a deterrent effect on forced marriage. Given the potential risks involved, we urge the Government to ensure that any changes it proposes to its policy on visa application procedures in respect of sponsorship are based on further research and conclusive evidence as to the effect of those changes. This evidence must demonstrate that any changes will not inadvertently discriminate against any particular ethnic groups.

The Government has a mechanism to help reluctant sponsors

112. Some survivors of forced marriage told us that substantial pressure had been put on them by their families to support a visa application for their spouse. Ajmal, a survivor, told us:

They [his family] forged my signature and got it stamped from the High Court of Pakistan from Islamabad stating I was legally married to this girl. I was not agreeing to it and she tried to get a visa and she got entry clearance as well for coming to the UK.[120]

Such reluctant sponsors are often vulnerable and unable to make a public refusal to sponsor the visa. Director of UK Visas, Mark Sedwill, told us:

We have to handle the victims very carefully; very many of them do not wish the fact that they have tipped us off that there is some impropriety in their marriage to come to the attention of their families...if the victim will not make a public statement then, inevitably, the evidential process is that much more difficult.[121]

113. We were surprised to learn that visa entry clearance officers do not interview the sponsor of a marriage visa application as a matter of course, but only the spouse applying to enter the UK. The Minister for Consular Affairs at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Meg Munn MP, explained that this policy existed because of the sheer volume of sponsors who would otherwise have to be interviewed.[122] Last year alone a total of 47,000 spouses entered the UK for a probationary period on settlement visas.[123]

114. However, Mark Sedwill, Director of UK Visas, told us that in cases where the authorities received a tip-off from a reluctant sponsor, they had a special procedure for refusing a visa application:

Where a sponsor has let us know that, for whatever reason, forced marriage or indeed other reasons, the marriage has collapsed or become violent, the sponsor will be interviewed either by telephone or in person. It is not an immigration interview but they will be interviewed either by consular colleagues or by the Forced Marriage Unit in the UK, in order to gather the information that enables us to then make the immigration decision. That is the decision at the first phase of the process. The second phase of the process is when the applicant comes in and we use that information from the sponsor, which may or may not include an on the record statement, to conduct a forensic interview with the applicant, essentially to penetrate whether the applicant, who could equally be a victim or a perpetrator, is genuine about the marriage, and that is the basis on which we can then refuse an application.[124]

But visas are still granted in forced marriage cases

115. Despite the special system in place to refuse visas in the case of reluctant sponsors, Mark Sedwill noted that about one twelfth of refusal cases were overturned on appeal:

We are currently getting around about a quarter of these cases going to appeal and we are losing around a third of those cases at appeal and that is because of course an Immigration Tribunal is, like all court proceedings, a public forum and if the victim, the sponsor is unwilling to make a public statement...our refusal notice is therefore inevitably weaker because we have had to concoct it on whatever evidence we can create.[125]

In relation to Pakistan alone, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office stated that:

In 2007, of the 407 new cases that were referred to the Consular Immigration Link (CIL), and had an application refused: 128 appeals have been lodged; 28 have been dismissed, by the independent Asylum and Immigration Tribunal (AIT); 6 have been allowed and 94 have not yet had a substantive appeal hearing outcome and remain outstanding.[126]

116. One of the proposals under consultation by the UK Border Agency is aimed at addressing this shortfall: the introduction of a Code of Practice setting out how an application for a visa application should progress if one of the parties is identified as being vulnerable to a forced marriage. The UK Border Agency states that "a power would be attached to refuse the visa without the sponsor having to provide an evidential statement".[127] A further proposal put forward by the UK Border Agency is to require sponsors to declare their intention to sponsor a partner from overseas before they leave the UK to marry. Jasvinder Sanghera supported this proposal: "I think they should register their intention, because it will alert the agencies. Part of the problem is we are not aware of where they are going and, once we lose them, they can get lost".[128]

117. We wish to note that much of our casework as Members of Parliament is related to immigration, and that many of us have written to the Home Office on behalf of a constituent, to identify someone who was being forced to apply for indefinite leave to remain (ILR) under duress, on behalf of their spouse. In each of these cases, we have found that information is rejected out of hand because it comes from a third party. We asked the Minister for Consular Affairs whether this information was routinely passed from the Home Office to the FCO Forced Marriage Unit. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office told us that:

There is currently no system in place to routinely alert the Forced Marriage Unit to third party information relating to reluctant sponsors of ILR applications. We recognise this as a shortfall. The Forced Marriage Unit is working with the Borders and Immigration Agency to consider the development of an information sharing protocol to ensure that all relevant cases and representations that make reference to forced marriage are referred to the Forced Marriage Unit.[129]

118. Where victims of forced marriage are courageous enough to approach the authorities or a third party to state that they are reluctant sponsors of marriage visa applications, it is vital that they are fully supported and visas are refused. We recognise the importance of protecting reluctant sponsors from harm at the hands of their families. In this context, the procedure currently employed by the Government to refuse marriage visa applications, without exposing reluctant sponsors, is welcome.

119. However, this procedure does not go far enough on two counts. First, the fact that visa sponsors are only interviewed when they themselves come forward as a reluctant sponsor means that forced marriage is unlikely to be detected unless the victim takes the initiative. Second, even when a forced marriage victim alerts the authorities, one twelfth of the visas refused on this basis are currently overturned at appeal by the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal, because the reluctant sponsor is unwilling to make a public statement in evidence to the Tribunal.

120. In relation to the first of these shortcomings, we recommend that interviews with visa sponsors take place not only when reluctant sponsors come forward themselves, but also in cases where there is a suspicion of forced marriage by immigration and visa-granting authorities, or other third parties.

121. In relation to the second of these shortcomings, we consider it essential that a power of refusal without the need for an evidential statement be attached to visa applications in cases of reluctant sponsors. The Code of Practice which has been proposed by the UK Border Agency, may provide a mechanism for implementing this measure.

122. Currently, information about a reluctant sponsor of a spousal visa, or of indefinite leave to remain, which is sent to the Home Office by someone other than the sponsor themselves—for example a Member of Parliament—is refused on the grounds that the information comes from a third party. This situation is wholly unacceptable. By failing to act on this information, the Government is putting victims and potential victims of forced marriage at greater risk. It is imperative that the Home Office, The UK Border Agency and the Forced Marriage Unit put in place a system to refer information received from third parties to the Forced Marriage Unit, immigration and visa-granting authorities. The Government must actively inform third parties who are likely to provide such information, including Members of Parliament, teachers and GPs, about which department they should contact in these cases.

123. Whilst we did not investigate in any detail the UK Border Agency proposal to require someone to declare their intention to sponsor a partner from overseas before they leave the UK to marry, we consider this proposal to have merit in providing a further layer of protection to potential victims.

124. We recommend that all visa entry clearance officers should be trained as a matter of course to identify risk factors associated with cases of forced marriage, and to refer those at risk of forced marriage appropriately. This will be especially important in assisting visa entry clearance officers to identify suspected cases of forced marriage and interview sponsors in those cases, as we recommend in paragraph 120 above.

Engaging communities is key to tackling "honour"-based violence and forced marriage

125. Survivors of "honour"-based violence and forced marriage agreed that changing harmful attitudes at community level is fundamental to tackling abuse. A recent report into forced marriage in Luton concluded that "the most effective way to prevent force in marriage is to change attitudes so that the issue does not arise in the first place".[130] However, witnesses described different receptions to attempts to discuss "honour"-based violence—on the one hand a willingness to engage, and on the other hand antipathy, or even collusion, in abuse. Nazir Afzal, Director of the Crown Prosecution Service London West, gave us examples of negative responses:

(I will give you two examples) from a faith leader whom I asked to talk about this during a ceremony, telling me: "I have to deal with my congregation every day; you only come here once a year"—so immediately saying he was not going to talk about it because he thinks he would lose his congregation. The second example is of a women's group which wanted to set up a memorial tree for each victim of honour killings over the last few years, hearing from within the community that somebody would chop them down.[131]

126. These polarised responses were also reflected in our eConsultation. For example, some contributors argued that imams can be positively engaged as community leaders to challenge more traditional beliefs on honour and marriage:

"I think it needs to be tackled at the to the imaan at the mosque. All Asian parents go to the mosque and some do get pumped by other elders so if the mosque is addressed then maybe the parents could see it differently" -billo786

  "Women's groups need to work with Imaams and together they can influence and change the views of families...having posters put up on mosque notice boards, in community centres and Asian business premises, saying that this is wrong will help" - christmas

127. Others argued that in a number of cases imams or other community leaders have 'reported back' to the parents, or advised the victim to return to their abuser:

"I know local leading members of the Muslim community who although they say they respect the laws in this country, still counsel women to go back to their abusive families in the name of 'honour'" - Cllr Davison

  "They don't know the meaning of the word confidentiality, before you get home the information would be with your parents" - hswa786

128. The Luton report made eight recommendations for action to prevent forced marriage, including to: improve parenting; increase awareness of right and duties [both by parents and by children]; promote a culture of condemnation of forced marriage; promote the education of women; train professionals about forced marriage; and empower women's self-help groups, which the report found were more frequently approached by victims than other agencies.[132] It also proposed specific action to engage communities in dialogue on forced marriage, including: developing materials for use by priests and imams as a basis for discussion of forced marriage in their teachings; short courses or workshops for priests and imams to explore techniques for raising the topic with their congregations.[133]

129. The Forced Marriage Unit, and members of the ACPO honour-based violence working group, have undertaken some awareness-raising work with community representatives, but ACPO concludes that "further work must be developed if communities are to develop solutions to such issues as honour based violence from within and ensure the eradication of such practices".[134]

130. "Honour"-based violence and forced marriage cannot be prevented without challenging attitudes within those communities which practise them. Community leaders must therefore be encouraged actively and openly to engage in dialogue about "honour"-based violence and forced marriage, and to condemn these practices.

131. A recent research study—Forced marriage, family cohesion and community engagement: National learning through a case study of Luton—makes constructive and detailed recommendations for furthering this community engagement agenda. We support the direction of the report's recommendations on 'promoting a culture of condemnation of forced marriage' and 'empowering women's self-help groups'.

Resourcing of the Forced Marriage Unit

132. The Government's Forced Marriage Unit is currently staffed by six people, and has a non-casework budget of 167,000 per annum.[135] The unit was set up three years ago, in particular to provide emergency support, including rescue and repatriation, for victims taken overseas. Growing awareness about forced marriage and the true extent of the practice has meant that demand for the unit's services has grown at an increasingly fast rate, and it seems that it now needs to expand to respond to that demand. The Unit told us that its caseload has substantially increased in recent months. In the twelve months to December 2007 it handled approximately 400 cases, whereas in the four months from January to April 2008 it has handled approximately 200 cases, an increase per month of around 50%.[136] The Unit's services are also increasingly in demand in terms of developing guidelines, publicity materials and carrying out community engagement.

133. It became clear during our inquiry that demand for the services of the Government's Forced Marriage Unit has significantly increased over the last few months, to the extent that it now requires additional resources in order to expand its capacity. If the Forced Marriage Unit is to engage in proactive preventative work with schools on a systematic basis this need will become still more urgent. We recommend that the Home Office and Foreign and Commonwealth Office should undertake to provide resources to increase the capacity of the Unit and enable it to operate effectively at this heightened level of activity.


57   Q 130 Back

58   Urdu word meaning "honour" Back

59   Q 65 Back

60   Ev 248 (Home Office) Back

61   FCO Forced Marriage Unit, You have a right to choose (2006) Back

62   Ev 213. Approximately half had seen a local campaign and half a national campaign. Back

63   Ev 250 (Home Office). Karma Nirvana also told us that forced marriage victims "normally go to a concerned friend", Q 168. Back

64   Ev 236 Back

65   University of Bristol and Home Office, Domestic Violence Perpetrators: Identifying Needs to Inform Early Interventions (April 2006), p 16 Back

66   Ev 483 Back

67   The THINK! campaign is funded by the Department for Transport Back

68   THINK! Road Safety campaign evaluation, Annual survey 2007 report (November, 2007), pp 5-6 Back

69   Ev 483 Back

70   Ev 256 (Mayor of London); Ev 382 (Men's Advice Line) Back

71   Sex and Relationships education is statutory, but makes no explicit mention of domestic or "honour"-based violence or forced marriage. PSHE is non-statutory. Back

72   Q 173 Back

73   Ev 213 Back

74   Q 254 Back

75   Q 256 Back

76   Research findings published in Humphreys & Mullender, Children and domestic violence: a research overview of the impact on children (1999), cited by the Department for Children, Schools and Families, Ev 397 Back

77   Safeguarding Young People from Exploitation and Violence in Teenage 'Dating' Relationships, University of Bristol, Big Lottery Fund and NSPCC. Back

78   The definition currently adopted by the Home Office reads: 'any incident of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse (psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional between adults [i.e. aged 18 and over] who are or have been intimate partners or family members, regardless of gender or sexuality' Back

79   Ev 182 (ACPO Domestic Abuse portfolio) Back

80   Ev 182 Back

81   Ev 428 (Imkaan) Back

82   See  Back

83   Ev 392 Back

84   Q 173 Back

85   The Mayor of London's response to the Government's Safety and Justice consultation (2003), Appendix B Back

86   Ev 239 Back

87   Ev 329 Back

88   Ev 392 Back

89   Ev 329 Back

90   Ev 329 Back

91   HORS 290, Tackling domestic violence: effective interventions and approaches, p viii Back

92   Ev 201 (Respect); Ev 258 (FJC); Ev 190 (NSPCC); Ev 207 (Women's Aid); Ev 159 (Refuge) Back

93   See Back

94   Observer, Sunday 4 May 2008 Childline receiving 50 calls a day as schools fail to advise on relationships. Back

95   Dealing with cases of forced marriage; Guidance for education professionals, 1st edition 2005, Forced Marriage Unit , p 9 Back

96   Ev 393 Back

97   Q 365 Back

98   Q 366 Back

99   Ev 397 Back

100   Dealing with cases of forced marriage; Guidance for education professionals, 1st edition 2005, Forced Marriage Unit , p 3 Back

101   Q 574 Back

102   Q 119 Back

103   Q 490 Back

104   Ev 437 (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) Back

105   Ev 438 (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) Back

106   Ev 439 (Foreign and Commonwealth Office). Additionally, 45 pre-existing (old) cases were dealt with by the CIL in 2007. Back

107   Ev 302 Back

108   Marriage to partners from overseas: a consultation paper, UK Border Agency (then the Border and Immigration Agency), December 2007 Back

109   See table 2, above Back

110   Ev 433 Back

111   Q 309 Back

112   Q 299 Back

113   Q 204 Back

114   We note that the Home Office no longer intends to publish this research owing to some concerns about methodology. However the research has instead been published by the University of Bristol. Back

115   Research summary, Forced Marriage: the risk factors and the effect of raising the minimum age for a sponsor, and of leave to enter the UK as a spouse or fiancé(e), University of Bristol (2008), p 3 Back

116   Ibid., p.3 Back

117   Ibid., p.3 Back

118   Schmidt and Jakobsen, Pardannelser blandt etniske minoriteter I Denmark (Relationship forming among people from minority ethnic groups in Denmark) (2004), Back

119   This finding is backed up by Danish Government statistics which indicate that while 2,808 out of 5,838 applicants were refused residence permits in family reunification cases in Denmark, only 7 of these cases were suspected of involving coercion or marriages of convenience. That is less than 1% of all cases. Statistical Report for 2004, Back

120   Q 311 Back

121   Q 580 Back

122   Q 579 Back

123   Marriage Visas: Pre-entry English requirements for spouses: consultation paper, UK Border Agency (then the Border and Immigration Agency) December 2007, p 5 Back

124   Q 588 Back

125   Q 620 Back

126   Ev 439 Back

127   Marriage Visas: Pre-entry English requirements for spouses: consultation paper, UK Border Agency December 2007, p 7 Back

128   Q 204 Back

129   Ev 440 Back

130   Dr Nazia Khanum OBE, Forced marriage, family cohesion and community engagement: National learning through a case study of Luton (March 2008), p 22 Back

131   Q 143 Back

132   Dr Nazia Khanum OBE, Forced marriage, family cohesion and community engagement: National learning through a case study of Luton (March 2008), pp 21-31 Back

133   Ibid., p 62 Back

134   Ev 176 Back

135   Ev 447 Back

136   Figures provided informally by the Forced Marriage Unit to the Home Affairs Committee Back

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