Forced marriage is a hidden epidemic in the UK with an estimated 5,000 to 8,000 forced marriages every year. Around 41 per cent of victims are under 18. The Government has made clear its opposition to the practice of forced marriage and over the past decade, both this Government and the last have implemented a series of commendable measures to combat it, yet still the practice persists. So what can be done?
Ending Forced Marriage examines the history of the Government’s fight against the practice in the UK, drawing on case studies of initiatives run in Commonwealth countries by the Department for International Development (DfID) and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). It finds that the reason these schemes are successful is their holistic approach to the problem: involving community engagement and focusing on prevention rather than prosecution. It argues that criminalisation alone will not be enough – there must be community support.
Drawing on these findings, the report recommends that the Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) should be given a deeper, wider presence, with representatives across the UK engaging with local communities and a requirement on public servants to understand and assist the unit’s mission. In terms of international action, the Government should build on its successful strategy of engaging Commonwealth partners and persuade core countries to coalesce around defined actions and targets. Finally, there should be greater integration between the FMU, FCO and DfID so that lessons learned from effective overseas initiatives can be applied at home. Tackling forced marriage requires a relentless focus on prevention as well as prosecution.