Hundreds of teenagers are being forced into unwanted marriages every year in Britain, according to new figures.
The government’s Forced Marriage Unit says it dealt with 1,302 cases of men and women being pressured by relatives to wed in 2013. A quarter of incidents involved victims aged 16-17 and 82% of cases involved women.
Although the total number of cases has fallen from 1,485 in 2012, there are fears that many are unreported.
One victim is Tina, from Birmingham, who was forced by her family to marry a man from India. The 18-year-old claims she was beaten by her brother and made to stay in India until her husband secured a spouse visa to Britain.
She added: “I thought my family loved me; how can they do this to me, I don’t deserve this abuse. I hate this monster, I am just a visa, I mean nothing to him. I have no family – they are dead to me. I hate my brother, he has ruined my life.”
Tina, who has now left her husband, is being supported by Mandy Sanghera, a human rights activist and government adviser. Sanghera, who has helped a victim as young as 13 years old, said forced marriages happen when parents want to control their child’s life to protect their reputation.
The campaigner added: “The majority of the cases reported involve south Asian families; there have also been cases involving African, Middle Eastern and European families.
“It is about control and honour, parents don’t want their child to date or be westernised or [express their] sexuality.”
Sanghera added that disabled people are also at risk of a forced marriage as they sometimes cannot give consent. And some families are looking for their disabled child to marry so their spouse can be their carer.
She said, “For many disabled people, they don’t even recognise that they are being forced into a marriage. We need to educate the community about capacity and consent – no one has the right to make life-changing decisions on their child’s behalf.”
Support groups backed the launch of The Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act in 2008, which allows courts to issue protection orders when a victim, friend or local authority raises the alarm. Breaching an order through offences such as kidnap and assault can lead to two years in jail.
In 2012, the prime minister announced that forcing someone to marry will become a criminal offence in England and Wales.
Jasvinder Sanghera CBE, chief executive of the Karma Nirvana support group, is concerned about how the laws are being used by some councils and schools.
Sanghera, who fled her family home to escape a forced marriage, said: “Our key concerns are where a protection order is issued to protect a victim: in many cases the victim is returned to the perpetrators with little or no monitoring.
“It cannot be right that in 21st-century Britain there exists an act to protect the most vulnerable and we return them to the abusers.
“These orders are designed to change behaviour, and without checking on the safety of the victim I have little faith in them. Many victims seek to have them discharged due to pressures as a result of the order.”
Dr Aisha Gill, associate professor in criminology at the University of Roehampton in London, believes the Act has been positive but councils need to be better educated about the laws.
She said: “The government’s energies and resources should be directed at reviewing how the legislation is working so that it may increase the effectiveness, before adopting new legislation that may make it harder to protect victims and prosecute perpetrators.
“Some local authorities have been slow to alter working methods, hindering their effective involvement in cases concerning individuals at risk. This reticence has been attributed to a lack of clarity regarding the boundaries between care proceedings under the Children Act 1989, Court of Protection cases, and forced marriage cases.
By Nadeem Badshah, MSN News