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Girls & Women

The Startling Reason Forced Marriage Reports in the UK Dropped by 37%

Flickr/Gabriela Camerotti

The number of cases of forced marriage referred to prosecutors in the UK has fallen by 37% in the past year. 

Now, activists are speaking out about what they think is to blame for the dramatic drop. 

They claim that police forces and other public bodies investigating forced marriages are afraid of being branded “racist”, because of the cultural associations these forced marriages have. 

Take action: Stand with Sonita and declare the right for girls to choose if, when, and to whom they marry

Investigators sent just 56 cases to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in 2016-7, according to figures released this week — which represents a fall of 37% on the 90 cases brought the year before.

Jasvinder Sanghera, from the Karma Nirvana charity, who herself escaped a forced marriage as a teenager, told the Independent that she is “absolutely horrified” by the figures.

“Perpetrators have got to feel the arm of the law, and to feel that there is a deterrent,” she said. “This is sending the wrong message to victims and perpetrators.”

“The evidence is clear to our helpline today, as with past public inquiries such as Rotherham, Victoria Climbie and others, that police and other professionals charged with safeguarding against forced marriage fear treading on cultural toes, rocking the boat and, worse, being branded racist,” she added. “The consequences for victims are devastating.” 

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Another forced marriage survivor, who is now a civil servant, told the Independent: “I know it from first-hand experience, where local authorities are fearful of community leaders in case they get labelled as racist.” 

Activists are now calling for specific training for public servants on how to combat forced marriage in light of the new figures.

The government’s Forced Marriage Unit (FMU), established to combat forced marriage in the UK, highlights that “forced marriage is not a problem specific to one country or culture”. 

Since it was established in 2005, the FMU has handled cases involving people living in Britain, but relating to over 90 countries across Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and North America, according to its 2016 report.

Read more: This 13-Year-Old Stopped Her Own Child Marriage, and Is Helping Others to Do the Same

In 2016, the FMU handled cases relating to 69 “focus” countries where a victim was at risk of, or had already, been taken to in connection with a forced marriage. 

Of those, the main countries were Pakistan (43%), Bangladesh (8%), and India (6%). 

But in 11% of cases handled by the FMU, the entirety of the potential or actual forced marriage took place entirely within the UK, rather than the victim being taken overseas. 

The FMU describes forced marriage as “an appalling and indefensible practice” which is “recognised in the UK as a form of violence against women and men, domestic/child abuse, and a serious abuse of human rights”. 

Read more: Girl, 5, Was Forced to Marry a 22-Year-Old Man in Pakistan

In 2016, the unit was involved in 1,428 cases. Of those, 371 cases — 26% — involved victims below the age of 18, and a further 497 — 34% — involved victims between 18 and 25. By the far the majority involved female victims — 80%. 

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