I was only 14 when my parents tried to send me away to be forced into a marriage. I was terrified; I didn’t want to leave my life in England, my friends, my family. Why did they want me to marry a man I’d never met? It didn’t make any sense, I felt scared and alone.
Freedom Charity rescued Zara who would have been subjected to daily rape and abuse.
Learn the facts about Forced Marriage
A forced marriage is where one or both people do not (or in cases of people with learning disabilities, cannot) consent to the marriage and pressure or abuse is used.
It is an appalling and indefensible practice and is recognised in the UK as a form of violence against women and men, domestic/child abuse and a serious abuse of human rights.
The pressure put on people to marry against their will can be physical (including threats, actual physical violence and sexual violence) or emotional and psychological (for example, when someone is made to feel like they’re bringing shame on their family). Financial abuse (taking your wages or not giving you any money) can also be a factor.
Forced Marriage vs. Arranged Marriage
Freedom believes we all should be entitled to choose who we wish to marry. This is a basic human right and in the UK appropriate measures are in place to ensure the safety and protection of its most vulnerable citizens.
Freedom celebrates the UK’s cultural diversity and all the traditions that these bring but it makes a clear distinction between an arranged marriage and a forced marriage.
An arranged marriage is one which has been intermediated by a third party but crucially both individuals have a choice. If at first the match doesn’t succeed, it is up to the arranger to find other potentially suitable matches. In time a match will be found and both individuals and their families can be confident that, by having a free choice, the couple will have every chance to be happy together.
The Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 makes it a criminal offence to force someone to marry. Forcing someone to marry can result in a sentence of up to seven years in prison.
Possible warning signs of Forced Marriage
No two cases of Forced Marriage are the same and you will know your friends better than anyone else. There are signs that may suggest that your friend is in trouble and threatened with a Forced Marriage.
Key signs to look out for:
- Your friend seems anxious and depressed and not interested in life
- Your friend seems withdrawn and reluctant to talk about what is going on in his or her family or about family members.
- Your friend may have told you that some of his or her brothers or sisters have been married at a very young age.
- Your friend may be suffering from mood swings and presenting challenging behaviour or attention seeking. This may mean getting into trouble at school
- Your friend may start self-harming or develop an eating disorder such as anorexia
- Your friend may lose interest in continuing their education and take little interest in homework
- Your friend’s movements may be restricted by family members
- Your friend may simply not come to school at all but at the same time not have told you that they are ill
- Your friend may disappear from social networks such as Facebook and instant messaging. Their Facebook may remain not updated for a long period of time.
Practical ways to help a friend
If you are worried about a friend who is exhibiting any of the above signs and fear that they may be forced into a marriage, tell your teacher or school mentor. You can say that you wish to remain anonymous. Tell your teacher that there are specialist police officers who can help and there is a Forced Marriage Unit at the Foreign Office.
Many Forced Marriages take place in the school/college holidays. It is often very difficult for a young person to take steps to avoid going on holiday even though they are afraid that something will happen. This may be because they do not feel strong enough to take steps to protect themselves or they do not want to believe their family could do such a thing.
If a friend tells you that they think they may be forced into a marriage when they go abroad on holiday, make sure they take these vital steps which could make all the difference:
- Make sure they have a phone or SIM card that works abroad
- Make sure that they have a specific code so that you know that it is them texting or contacting you rather than somebody else using their phone
- Agree a secret set of words that you will know will mean they are in trouble and need help but which no one else will suspect, for example, ‘What’s happening on Hollyoaks?’
- Agree on a date by which if they are not back, you have permission to tell a teacher or somebody else in authority about your concerns
- Before they go, tell them to try to get an address or at least the area of the country they are going to and the names of the family members they are visiting
- Tell them to leave a note of their passport number and the full names of their parents and any adult siblings with you to keep in a safe place
- Give them the number of the Forced Marriage Unit and ask them to memorise it
- Make sure that they have the address of the British Embassy or High Commission in the country they are going to – you can get this from the Forced Marriage Unit or from us
- Ask them to leave a photograph with you to keep in a safe place
- Try to persuade your friend to discuss the concerns that they have about the holiday before they go. They can call our helpline on 0845 607 0133 or talk to a police officer, the Forced Marriage Unit or a lawyer.
For teachers and other professionals
Freedom provides information and advice to professionals working with children and young people to help prevent Forced Marriage and Female Genital Mutilation.
Talks to pupils
Freedom Charity runs a programme of visits to schools which highlight some of the key signs associated with Forced Marriage and suggest courses of action that could help potential victims. We can give a talk in assembly and then answer questions from pupils and staff. Since 2011 we have visited over 60 schools and handed out over 20,000 copies of ‘But It’s Not Fair’, a novel by Aneeta Prem which aims to raise awareness of Forced Marriage.
Freedom were instrumental in helping change law on forced marriage on the 16th June 2014 forced marriage became a crime.
The Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 makes it a criminal offence to force someone to marry This includes:
- Taking someone overseas to force them to marry (whether or not the forced marriage takes place)
- Marrying someone who lacks the mental capacity to consent to the marriage (whether they’re pressured to or not)
- Breaching a Forced Marriage Protection Order is also a criminal offence.
Statistics – January to December 2014
The FMU gave advice or support related to a possible forced marriage in 1267 cases (*1).
Where the age was known:
- 11.% of cases involved victims(*2) below 16 years
- 11% involved victims aged 16-17
- 17% involved victims aged 18-21
- 14% involved victims aged 22-25
- 8% involved victims aged 26-30
- 5.% involved victims aged 31-40
- 2% involved victims aged 41 or over
- 32% involved an adult whose age was not known.
79% of cases involved female victims and 21% involved male victims.
The FMU has handled cases involving a total of over 88 different countries (*3). In 2014 this included:
- Pakistan (38.3%)
- India (7.8%)
- Bangladesh (7.1%)
- Afghanistan (3%)
- Somalia (1.6%)
- Turkey (1.1%)
- Iraq (0.7%)
- Sri Lanka (1.1%)
- Iran (1.0%).
The origin was unknown in 3.5% of cases.
23% of the cases handled by the FMU were domestic and had no overseas element.
Within the UK the regional distribution was:
- London 23%
- West Midlands 11.9%
- South East 10.8%
- Yorkshire and Humberside 8.9%
- North West 8.1%
- East 4.7%
- East Midlands 4.4%
- Scotland 2.3%
- South West 1.7%
- Wales 1.4%
- Northern East 1.3%
- Northern Ireland 0.7%.
The region was unknown in 20% of cases.
135 cases involved victims with disabilities.
8 involved victims who identified themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT).
(*1) This statistic includes contact made to the FMU via the helpline or by email in relation to a new case.
(*2) Victim includes people thought to be at potential risk of future forced marriage, those currently going through a forced marriage and those who have already been forced to marry.
(*3) This includes countries to which a victim is at risk of being taken or has already been taken to in connection with a forced marriage.
A Forced Marriage Protection Order (FMPO) could help if you are:
- being forced into marriage; or
- you are already in a forced marriage.
A Forced Marriage Protection Order is a legal document issued by a judge, which is designed to protect you according to your individual circumstances. It contains legally binding conditions and directions that require a change in the behaviour of a person or persons trying to force another person into marriage.Download a FMPO (PDF)
Donate to Freedom today!
Your help and support in raising awareness is crucial to saving lives. Alternatively, just text the words FREE02 followed by the amount you can give (£2 / £5 / £10 etc) to 70070.
International Day Zero Tolerance Female Genital Mutilation https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/feb/06/anti-fgm-campaign-red-triangle-uk-global-day-opposition The 6th of February marks the International Day Zero Tolerance Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). There are an estimated 137,000 women and girls affected by FGM in England and Wales. 200 million women and girls have gone through FGM worldwide.