Forced marriage - Home Affairs Committee Contents

1  Introduction

Our inquiry

1.  In 2008 our predecessor Committee published a detailed Report on Domestic Violence, Forced Marriage and "Honour"-Based Violence, which drew attention to the abusive practice of forced marriage, highlighted its scale and noted significant weaknesses in the response from Government and frontline professionals. The Committee made a number of recommendations for improving action to prevent forced marriage and to support victims, which were on the whole favourably received by the previous Government. We decided to investigate how much progress had been made in implementing these recommendations over the past three years.

2.  To this end, we took oral evidence from Karma Nirvana, one of the few national organisations dedicated to supporting victims of forced marriage and campaigning on their behalf, from a survivor of forced marriage and from the Minister for Equalities, Lynne Featherstone MP, on 22 March 2011. We received written evidence from Southall Black Sisters, a London-based organisation working with black and minority ethnic female victims of violence, Cris McCurley, a family law practitioner from the North-East of England, and relevant Government Departments. We also took evidence from further witnesses on other aspects of our predecessor's Report, particularly the funding of domestic violence support services, to which we intend to return later in the Parliament and therefore do not consider here. We thank all those who contributed to our inquiry.

Nature and prevalence of forced marriage

3.  Forced marriage is "a marriage conducted without the valid consent of both parties where duress (emotional pressure in addition to physical abuse) is a factor".[1] It is not an arranged marriage into which, while families may be involved in choosing the marriage partner, both parties probably, on the whole, enter freely; nor is it a religious practice. While our predecessors observed that forced marriage has historically been practised in many different communities, they found that in 2008, due to their relative size within the UK population, forced marriage was most common amongst Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Indian communities. At the time of the inquiry the Government's Forced Marriage Unit handled around 300 cases of forced marriage each year but it was considered that this was likely to represent "only the tip of the iceberg."[2] Subsequent research commissioned by the then-Department for Children, Schools and Families, at the Committee's behest, estimated that the national prevalence of reported cases of forced marriage in England was between 5,000 and 8,000.[3]

4.  The number of cases of forced marriage dealt with by the Forced Marriage Unit rose to 430 in 2008 and remained at around 400 in 2009 and 2010, with the ratio of male to female victims also remaining stable over this period at around 86% female to 14% male.[4] Jasvinder Sanghera told us that Karma Nirvana had recently become aware of instances of forced marriage taking place in a broader range of communities than before, citing cases from Egypt and an increase in at-risk dual heritage children.[5] Karma Nirvana reported a rise in callers to their national Honour Network Helpline since 2008, peaking at 5,599, and in particular an increase in the number of males reporting; the ratio of callers is now 70% female to 30% male.[6]

5.  The increase in the number of cases handled by the Forced Marriage Unit and the number of calls made to the Honour Network Helpline since our predecessor Committee's inquiry in 2007-08 demonstrates that forced marriage remains a serious concern, affecting thousands of young people in the UK. The fact that more young women and, increasingly, young men are coming forward to seek help is encouraging but underlines the requirement for sufficient support mechanisms to be in place to meet their needs.

1   Home Affairs Committee, Sixth Report of Session 2007-08, Domestic Violence, Forced Marriage and "Honour"-Based Violence, HC 263, para 11 Back

2   Home Affairs Committee, Sixth Report of Session 2007-08, Domestic Violence, Forced Marriage and "Honour"-Based Violence, HC 263, para 31 Back

3   Department for Children, Schools and Families, Forced Marriage-Prevalence and Service Response, DCSF-RB128, July 2009 Back

4   Data provided by the Forced Marriage Unit to the Equalities Committee of the Scottish Parliament, December 2010,  Back

5   Q 26 Back

6   Qq 40, 66 Back

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Prepared 17 May 2011