Forced Marriage is practised in a wide range of communities in the UK and globally. It is recognised as an abuse of human rights both nationally and internationally. Forced Marriage has also been a feature of many orthodox religious communities and of ‘shotgun’ marriages in the West (Hester et al. 2007, Chantler & Gangoli 2011).
The UK government’s definition of forced marriage includes two key elements: duress and lack of full and free consent to marry. Duress refers to physical, sexual, emotional or financial abuse that is brought to bear on the victims which impacts on their ability to give full and free consent to marry.
The Government in England and Wales created the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007, implemented in 2008. This enables the victim or a relevant third party to apply to specific courts in England and Wales to apply for a forced marriage protection order. It applies to both children and adults. The terms of the order are individualised to the victim’s specific context. This legislation also heralded the statutory multi-agency guidance (including health workers) on forced marriage that offers explicit information on how to handle cases of forced marriage. Similar legislation was introduced in Scotland: Forced Marriage etc (Protection and Jurisdiction) (Scotland) Act 2011. In 2014, forcing someone to marry became a criminal offence in the UK.
Understanding forced marriage and its complex dynamics is central to effective intervention. Forced marriage is frequently conceptualised as a purely ‘cultural’ issue (Brandon & Hafiz, 2008) which renders it difficult to intervene in. One potential explanation of this is ‘race anxiety’ (Chantler et al. 2001, Chantler & Gangoli 2011). ‘Race anxiety’ refers to practitioners and institutional concerns to avoid being labelled culturally insensitive or racist. This anxiety appears to prevent practitioners from conducting appropriate assessments of risk in abuse situations. Our forced marriage research highlights the importance of attending to structural factors such as poverty, unequal gender relations, heteronormativity and immigration issues in understanding and responding to forced marriage (Hester et al. 2007). Gill and Sundari (2011) discuss forced marriage as a human rights and social justice issue. Culture is a feature of forced marriage and in domestic abuse more generally; however issues of power and control are central to understanding diverse forms of abuse including forced marriage.
Natcen (2009) estimated between 5000-8000 cases of forced marriage in 2008 and highlighted the difficulties of establishing what counts as a ‘case’ of forced marriage. This was also raised as a challenge in Hester et al’s study and illustrates both the challenges of accurately measuring prevalence as well as practice issues related to the recognition of and intervention in forced marriage. Importantly, the recent introduction of the criminalisation of coercive control is also highly relevant to forced marriage. As in other forms of abuse, coercive control is difficult to evidence yet is a central and perhaps unrecognised feature of forced marriage.
Brandon, J., & Hafez, S. (2008). Crimes of the community: Honour based violence in the UK. London, UK: Centre for Social Cohesion
Chantler, K., E. Burman, Batsleer, J. and Bashir C (2001) Attempted Suicide and Self Harm (South Asian Women), Manchester: MMU, Women’s Studies Research Centre
Chantler, K. and Gangoli, G. (2011) Domestic Violence in Minority Communities: Cultural Norm or Cultural Anomaly? In R. Thiara, M. Schroettle & S. Condon (eds): Violence against Women and Ethnicity: Commonalities and Differences across Europe. Verlag Barbara Budrich, Leverkusen, Germany.
Gill A. and Sundari, A. (eds.) (2011): Forced Marriage: Introducing a Social Justice and Human Rights Perspective. Zed Books, London
Hester, M., Chantler, K., Gangoli, G., Devgon, J., Sharma, S., & Singleton, A. (2007). 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 fiance´(e).University of Bristol School for Policy Studies, http://www.bristol.ac.uk/sps/research/projects/completed/2007/rk6612/rk6612finalreport.pdf
Natcen (2009). Forced marriage: Prevalence and service responses: http://www.natcen.ac.uk/media/659806/c0f6680f-c723-4955-bf08-e64073fad61b.pdf
Dr Khatidja Chantler is Reader and founder member of the Connect Centre for International Research on Interpersonal Violence and Harm in the School of Social Work, Care and Community, UCLAN. She has conducted research for various funders and her areas of research expertise focus on gender based violence, gender, ethnicity, self-harm and qualitative methods. Her publications include numerous peer-reviewed journal articles, book chapters and co-authored books (Domestic Violence and Minoritisation: supporting women towards independence, 2002; Attempted Suicide and Self Harm (South Asian Women, 2001) and co-edited books (Gender and Migration: Feminist perspectives, 2010). She has a professional background in community development and therapeutic counselling and she is a clinical supervisor.