Tony Blair recently wrote an open letter to various Asian women groups to offer his support on legislation around forced marriages. He has finally started paying some attention to this problem and I’m glad of that.
Here’s the letter.
I am writing to you because I know how effectively you have campaigned for action against forced marriages and your close involvement with Lord Lester in shaping his Private Member’s Bill on this important issue. So I wanted to tell you personally about the Government’s intention to support the Bill and to help strengthen the protections it gives to prevent people being married against their will.
Forced marriages are an inhuman and highly damaging practice and we are determined to take seriously our responsibility to prevent them and support the victims. As you will know, the Government has already made progress in this area.
We have already raised from 16 to 18 the age for gaining access to the UK for the purpose of marriage and are now consulting on increasing it again to 21. We have also set up the joint Foreign Office / Home Office Forced Marriage Unit (FMU), the only one of its type in the world. The FMU works closely with our consular offices and now helps around 300 victims of forced marriages a year. Some of those it helps are as young as ten.
But the Government has also accepted that more needs to be done. Forced marriages are already against the law but a national consultation exercise last year strongly suggested that specifically criminalising them might not be effective so we have looked to see how better use of existing legislation, civil remedies and the family courts could increase protection.
Lord Lester’s Bill, which you have helped draft, is very much along these lines. By extending the reach of the Family Law Act, it will give the courts powers to prevent forced marriages or, where one has already taken place, to remove the victim to safety. Breaches of injunctions would be contempt of court and could lead to arrest. The Bill would also enable relatives and friends to appeal to the court for protection of the victim in a forced marriage.
The Government has also worked with Lord Lester to strengthen and widen protections against forced marriages from the original proposals in the Bill. This, in particular, includes tougher action against third parties who can help coerce people into marriage. The overall impact of the Bill will be to make it easier to protect victims and for the courts to intervene to stop this illegal activity.
Government support for the Bill, of course, means that these added and much needed protections now have a much greater chance of becoming law. I am very pleased that we have been able to work with you on these proposals and believe they will have a big impact in stamping out this cruel practice.
Southall Black Sisters
Rights of Women
Hounslow Domestic Violence Network
Asian Family Counselling Service
Newham Asian Women’s Project
This Government, instead of making small noises about deploring violence against women and not tolerating so-called honour killings, needs to take firm steps in fully supporting such women if they face domestic abuse. At present most victims face not only difficulty getting access to social support but also have to go to extraordinary lengths to prove they are genuine victims.
Labour has also failed to take meaningful action against forced marriages, which is part of the broader problem.
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Filed in: Sex equality