Forced marriages should not be confused with arranged marriages. Arranged marriages take place with both parties’ full consent to the marriage and they only differ to other marriages by the fact the couple are introduced to each other by family, friends or other members of their community. After the initial introduction, the couple come to the decision themselves to marry each other. Forced marriages are fundamentally different. Forced marriages are those where one or neither party to the marriage consent to it and the marriage takes place under duress. Duress is a form of pressure. Quite often pressure is used by telling the person being forced to marry that they will bring shame and dishonour on their family if the marriage does not take place. In this situation, there may be threats to pressurise one or both parties to the marriage. Sometimes a person is taken abroad for the purposes of forcing them into marriage and they are held there and prevented from returning to England until the marriage has gone ahead. The type and amount of pressure that then leads to the forced marriage will depend on the characteristics of the individual.
Since the end of 2008, the Court has had the power to make Forced Marriage Protection Orders under the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007. There are a number of things that the Court can include in a Forced Marriage Protection Order to protect a person. The application for a Forced Marriage Protection Order does not have to be made by the actual person being forced into marriage and can be made by a third party on their behalf, for example by a public authority, a friend or family member. This recognises that the actual people needing protection are not always able to make the Court application themselves, particularly if they are being held abroad. It also recognises that the person being forced into marriage may need and want the Court’s protection but would rather that a third party to seek the Court’s help for them as they do not wish to be further ostracised by their family and community.
Disobeying a Forced Marriage Protection Order can result in a sentence of up to 5 years in prison.
Forced marriage is also a criminal offence but the fact that the English family courts have the ability to protect people in these situations means that those people who simply want protection and not for their family members to be punished in the criminal courts, can still seek help to the extent they feel comfortable.