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Chaz Akoshile is the Joint Head of the Forced Marriage Unit, he and his team help those at risk of forced marriages.
In Chaz Akoshile’s presentation at the Safeguarding Advisory Panel he clarified what forced marriage is, what the Forced Marriage Unit is and what they do, as well as how to recognise the warning signs that a person may be at risk of being forced into a marriage.
The Forced Marriage Unit has worked with Virtual College to develop a free course which raises awareness of forced marriages.
Forced marriage definition
The public perception of forced marriage is often a matrimony in which a spouse is chosen for an individual, usually by family or relatives. The reality is this is an arranged marriage and it would only be regarded as a forced marriage if one or both parties did not want it to occur. The Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) defines a forced marriage as “a marriage which is conducted without the valid consent of one or both parties and where duress is a factor”.
There are many different reasons marriage is forced upon certain individuals for instance; a family may want to claim residence or citizenship in a country, or a child may have disabilities and the parents want to marry them to ensure a long term carer. A family may also have a misguided belief that by forcing their daughter/son into a marriage they will be protecting their culture or religion and therefore maintaining their honour.
In 2014, there have been over 1250 calls to the FMU from individuals who believe an individual, themselves or a friend were at risk of being forced into a marriage. Shockingly, 11% of those who called were below the age of 16 and 39% of callers were 21 or under. In the UK, there is a gender stereotype whereby the public believe those who are forced into a marriage are women, however the calls received by the FMU have shown this is not the case as 21% of them came from males.
However, the figures above showing the number of people contacting the FMU do not tell the whole story there are many who feel they cannot come forward. This may be because they feel they are in a situation where nobody can help, they do not want their family or relatives to be prosecuted, or they do not want to bring shame upon their family.
Forced Marriage Protection Order
Those at risk who do come forward can take out a Forced Marriage Protection Order (FMPO), or have one taken out on their behalf. These are civil orders that have legally binding requirements, such as the person at risk cannot be taken overseas, the person at risk cannot be harassed, harmed or threatened and the person at risk cannot be forced into a marriage, religious or otherwise. FMPOs can be made either if a marriage is due to occur or if it has already taken place.
As of June 2014, forced marriage is now an illegal offence, so a perpetrator can be prosecuted, however the civil route and use of FMPOs is still available and can also be used as an alternative to entering the Criminal Justice System. Perpetrators may still be prosecuted if it is in the public interest to do so, however victims may be able to choose how to be assisted. The new legislation also means that legal action can be taken against those who do not follow the terms given in a FMPO, so if breached those involved can be imprisoned for up to 5 years. If a forced marriage occurs, then the perpetrator can be imprisoned for up to 7 years regardless of whether there has been an order given or not.
How can the FMU help?
The FMU has been put in place to assist and help those at risk of being forced into a marriage, by developing effective government policy, delivering awareness training and taking on casework from domestic, consular or reluctant sponsors. To fulfil these duties, the FMU works with many different workforce’s including the police, social workers, teachers, health professionals and airport security, just to name a few. They provide support and information, arrange safe accommodation and implement an aftercare programme to ensure those at risk remain safe. As Chaz stated “aftercare is vital, without it there can be vital consequences”.
The FMU also provides overseas assistance. They can signpost a person at risk to the British High Commission or British Embassy in-country, provide them with safe accommodation, assist their return to the UK and organise repatriation. However, it is important to be aware that the FMU will assist any national when they are in the UK, but overseas they are only able to help UK nationals.
Potential indicators of forced marriage
There are many potential warning signs that a person may be at risk of being forced into a marriage. These include:
- Fear about forthcoming holidays
- Not allowed to work
- Request for extended leave of absence and failure to return from visits abroad
- Self-harm or attempted suicide
- Early marriage of siblings
- Reports of domestic abuse, harassment or breaches of the peace at the family home.
These are just a few examples of what could be potential indicators that a person is at risk. There are many more examples which can be seen in the guidelines for handling cases of forced marriages here.
If you feel you, or someone you know is at risk of being forced into a marriage then please do not hesitate to contact the Forced Marriage Unit on 020 7008 0151. Lines are open Monday – Friday, 9am – 5pm. Out of hours, please call the Global Response Centre on 020 7008 1500
Virtual College have worked with the FMU to create a free online course that raises awareness of a forced marriage, Chaz is accredited as the subject matter expert for the course topic and stated it is a “wonderful eLearning tool [that] complements the other documents in existence”. Click here to find out more about the course.