In a landmark conviction a Birmingham mother who cannot be named has been found guilty on two counts of forced marriage. It’s the first time this type of case has been successfully prosecuted in a criminal court in England. Forcing anyone to marry against their will is a serious criminal offence carrying a maximum prison sentence of seven years. It’s legally defined as a forced union when one or both spouses haven’t given their consent, and there has been some form of coercion, violence and threatening involved.

Damning Evidence

Birmingham Crown Court heard how the mother duped her teenage daughter into travelling to Pakistan to wed a man-16-years her senior, and a relative. She tricked the 17-year-old by telling her she was going on a family holiday. It was also revealed how the girl became pregnant after first having sex with the man when she was just 13. On her return to the UK she underwent an abortion before her GP alerted social services. The case for the prosecution said her mother ‘made all the right noises’, to suggest her daughter and the man were just ‘two teenagers who sneakily had sex after she was referred to social services. Jurors were told of how the deeply troubled teenager had cried to her mother after signing a certificate to prove the marriage. In court, she said: “I didn’t want to get married to him”.

In a letter presented to a judge the teenager wrote: ‘I think my mother sold me for a British passport. I’m scared to go back to Pakistan. I hate it there.’

No Relevant Case Law

Judge Patrick Thomas QC told the jury the adjournment was appropriate as the case was “entirely novel”, with no other relevant case law to rely upon.

The 45-year-old mother of four looked stunned on hearing her convictions of deceiving the victim to go to Pakistan, in order to enter into a false marriage, forced marriage and perjury, after she later lied about the incident in the High Court. She was found not guilty of a fourth charge of perverting the course of justice and will be sentenced on Wednesday.

Elaine Radway, from the Crown Prosecution Service, applauded the “brave testimony” of the victim, saying: Forced marriage is a breach of human rights

Forced Marriage Investigation

The UK’s Forced Marriage Unit has identified more than 8,000 cases in the past eight years but only one has resulted in a prosecution. Still a blight on 21st century life, nearly 1,200 possible cases were flagged up last year alone. Worryingly, more than a quarter involved victims under the age of 18, with children as young as 13 also involved. Figures may have been down 19 per cent on the previous 12 months, but this may not reflect the true scale of the abuse suffered by those involved. A third of forced marriages either took place or were due to take place in Pakistan, with Bangladesh being another popular country for the practice.

Though it’s not specific to one particular nation, the FMU did deal with focus cases in 65 different countries. There was no overseas element in 120 potential unions, with the actual forced marriage taking place entirely within the UK. Established in 2005, the FMU is jointly run by the Home Office and the Foreign Office. In the past six years the unit has provided support in 1,200 to 1,400 cases a year.

A recent report confirmed 78 per cent of cases logged in 2017 related to female victims, while 256, or 21 per cent, involved male victims. It cited this was proof, men could also be forced into marriage.

The Suffering of Victims

Karma Nirvana, an organisation supporting victims of honour related abuse, disclosed they receive 300 calls a month about forced marriage and honour-based abuse. Many of these victims feel unable to report their suffering to the authorities.

A spokesperson for the children’s charity NSPCC has said: “Children as young as 13 have contacted us worried about being forced into marriage yet fearing they will be cut out off their community if they refuse. “We would urge anyone worried about a child to speak up before it is too late, so that we can get help and prevent them being bound into something they would never ask for.”

It’s reported the charity Childline supervised 205 counselling sessions on the issue in 2016-17, a 12 per cent increase from the previous year. There were 6,099 visits to the Childline forced marriage page in the same 12-month period. The anxiety and fears children deal with in these cases can also lead to serious self-harm. Some resort to running away from home, and this in turn leaves them open to further abuse, or even to contemplate taking their own lives.

Hard Truths

Forced marriage is a form of child abuse and its secretive nature has made it difficult to grasp the true scale of the problem. Those aged 18 years or younger seem greater at risk. Legal experts will now be looking closely at this ruling regarding more possible prosecutions in the years to come.