Doctors, nurses, and teachers could soon face criminal charges if they fail to report forced marriages to the police and social services.
A UK Home Office public consultation was opened on Thursday into whether the government should impose new mandatory reporting duties, which could lead to more convictions and act as a deterrent to future forced marriages.
Forced marriage was outlawed in England and Wales in 2014 and is punishable by up to seven years in prison. But despite the Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) — a government body — dealing with between 1,200 and 1,400 cases per year, there have been only four convictions.
A third of all cases involved victims under the age of 18, according to 2017 statistics.
The public consultation will run until Jan. 23, during which time the Home Office hopes to hear from victims, survivors and relevant authorities on its plans.
Speaking at the International Conference on Ending FGM and Forced Marriage on Thursday, home secretary Sajid Javid announced the new consultation, saying, “These crimes in my view are despicable, inhumane, and uncivilised.”
Today I opened our international conference to tackle FGM & forced marriage. These medieval crimes have no place in modern society & we must all work together to build a safer world for our children #EndFGM#ForcedMarriage#RightToChoosepic.twitter.com/3OgveUhDX9— Sajid Javid (@sajidjavid) November 15, 2018
“They should not be dressed up as culture, tradition, or some kind of private family business — because they are none of these things,” he said.
Javid added that, despite legislation, these “horrific crimes” are still happening, and perpetrators are slipping through the net without being brought to justice.
Since 2007, 1,600 Forced Marriage Protection Orders (FMPOs) have been issued. FMPOs protect victims from spouses, family members or anyone involved in a forced marriage.
In 2017, lifelong anonymity was granted to victims of forced marriages for the first time, offering protection to victims afraid of coming forward. However, Javid concluded his speech saying the UK still needed to “redouble” its efforts.
One suggestion was to make it a criminal offence for professionals to fail to report a suspected case of forced marriage. Another idea was to create a regulatory body with powers to dismiss staff or, where appropriate, retrain them.
Forcing someone to marry isn’t always physical, but it is always against the law.— Home Office (@ukhomeoffice) November 15, 2018
For help and support, contact the #ForcedMarriage Helpline on 020 7008 0151 or visit https://t.co/6rRR7ncfNb#RightToChoosepic.twitter.com/0gnibjCBdx
During his speech, Javid shared the story of Zee, a girl born into an Afghan family who was engaged to be married by the time she was 13.
Zee ran away from her home in Bradford to London and was subsequently disowned by her family. Now, she campaigns for the Karma Nirvana Survivor Ambassador Programme, which offers support to people disowned by families and communities in the name of so-called honour.
Karma Nirvana was set up in 1993 by author and campaigner Jasvinder Sanghera after her elder sister set herself on fire aged 24 following abuse at the hands of a husband she did not choose. Sanghera was born to a Sikh family in Derby, and was herself disowned after refusing an arranged marriage.
Speaking during a TED talk in 2013, Sanghera said, "It is not part of my tradition, culture, or religion to abuse anybody — and professionals need to wake up and own that as a fact."
Sanghera’s Twitter handle reads: “Cultural acceptance does not mean accepting the unacceptable.”
The Home Office document on the consultation wrote however there could be risks of over-reporting of potential cases of forced marriages, which might "stigmatise whole communities" or affect the "police's ability to prioritise cases".
The consultation is open to the public, and responses can be made online here.