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Forced Marriage:

The risk factors and the effect of raising the minimum age for a sponsor, and of leave to enter the UK as a spouse or fiancé(e)
Draft Final Report to Home Office

15 February 2007

Professor Marianne Hester, Dr Khatidja Chantler, Dr Geetanjali Gangoli

Dr Bipasha Ahmed, Professor Erica Burman, Jasvinder Devgon,

Sandhya Sharma, Ann Singleton1
Forced Marriage:

The risk factors and the effect of raising the minimum age for a sponsor, and of leave to enter the UK as a spouse or fiancé(e)



1. Introduction
This report provides the findings of a study commissioned by the Home Office into forced marriage, in particular the risk factors and potential effects of raising the minimum age for a sponsor to 21 or 24 and of leave to enter the UK as a spouse or fiancé(e). The research was carried out between March 2006 and February 2007 in three locations – Birmingham, Manchester and Tower Hamlets. It set out to examine four main issues:


  1. The impact/outcome of the recent increase the age of sponsorship/entry from 16 to 18 years;

  2. The benefits and risks of increasing the age of sponsorship or entry to 18, 21 and 24;

  3. The range of communities in which forced marriage happens; and

  4. The factors which were perceived to increase or decrease the risk of forced marriages.




  1. Background

The research was carried out in the context of concerns about forced marriage and discussions about ways of tackling this phenomenon. The Home Office defines forced marriage as occurring:

Where one or both parties are coerced into a marriage against their will and under duress. Duress includes either physical and/or emotional pressure. It is very different from arranged marriage, where both parties give their full and free consent to the marriage. The tradition of arranged marriages has operated successfully within many communities and many countries for along time. (Home Office 2006)

A study by the Home Office locates the prevention of forced marriages as a part of a wider ‘strategy to ensure that all people can live without fear, whether from racist attacks or from domestic violence’ (Uddin and Ahmed, 2000: 4), making a connection between coercion, entry into marriage and domestic violence. Similarly, other documents from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Department of Health make a direct link between domestic violence and forced marriage, perceiving forced marriages as a form of domestic violence in itself, and as contributing to domestic violence after marriage (FCO and DoH, 2003). State responses to forced marriage have also included the provision of guidelines to social workers (FCO 2003), the police (Stabbard 2002) and the education sector (FCO 2005) about good practice in cases of forced marriage involving young people.

The research was carried out against a backdrop of wider discussions regarding the raising of the minimum age of a sponsor or spouse entering the UK to 21 or 24 as part of the government’s measures to tackle forced marriage. Some European countries have 18 as the minimum age, including the UK where the minimum age was raised from 16 to 18 in December 2004 to provide extra time for young people and resist family pressure to marry2. Countries such as the Netherlands and Germany have recently raised the age to 21, and Denmark has the highest minimum age for a sponsor of 24. There is, however, little or no research regarding the impact of these age limits on the incidence of forced marriage. In the Netherlands, the specific impact on forced marriage cases of this change is not clear. Since the law was implemented in November 2004, there was a drop of 23% per cent in the first 8 months of 2005 in the general number of applications requesting a temporary stay authorisation for family formation or family reunification compared to the same period for 2004. However, enlargement of the European Union also impacted on these figures as individuals from the ten new member states are no longer required to apply for such authorisation. In Denmark the raising of the age was implemented in 2002 within a general tightening up of immigration and asylum laws, and increasing emphasis on integration. The containment of forced marriage was also argued as one of the factors behind the change. While there appears to have been no direct impact on forced marriages, there has been an increase in the numbers of young immigrants pursuing further education, from 10% of 20-24 year olds in 2000/2001 to 17% in 2003/2004, and the age of marriage to someone residing outside the EU has increased from 20 to 25 years (Hvilshøj 2006). It should be noted, however, that the increase in age of entry has taken place alongside a major investment in the levels of support for young people in Denmark who may face forced marriage, including dedicated refuges, hotlines and targeted funding from the Danish government for a variety of support including housing (Hvilshøj 2006; Ny i Danmark 20073).


There have also been debates in the UK and elsewhere on whether or not to criminalise forced marriage (FCO and HO, 2005), and as this report was being written a proposed civil law that would offer protection in cases of forced marriage was under consideration (Forced Marriage Bill 2006). Internationally, for the first time in legal history, forced marriage is being prosecuted as a ‘crime against humanity’ in Sierra Leone’s post conflict Special Court (Park 2006), and in Pakistan, there were, at the time of writing, discussions on pushing forward legislation aiming to outlaw forced marriage (news24 2006).
The UK proposal to create a specific criminal offence of forced marriage included a national consultation on the issue, which concluded that a specific criminal offence should not be adopted. While there is no specific offence in the UK of ‘forcing someone to marry’ (FCO and HO, 2005: 8) it was felt that existing provisions within criminal and civil law would be able to deal with the range of offences committed during forced marriage. These include kidnapping, false imprisonment, assault, sexual offences, harassment, child cruelty and failing to ensure school attendance. The consultation document suggested that a specific criminal offence may have disadvantages such as having a disproportionate effect on the BME population, which could be interpreted as an attack on specific communities, potentially increasing the alienation of victims from their families. However, it could also be beneficial in preventing forced marriage by having a deterrent effect and empowering young people.
3. Literature

The general literature relating to forced marriage reveals that the issue is of both national and international interest and focus (FCO, DoH et al. 2003; Schmidt and Jakobsen 2004). It highlights how interventions and approaches may have contradictory or confusing implications, and tend to be steeped in issues of immigration and/or cultural assumptions about different communities. There is an emerging literature that situates forced marriage within the context of domestic violence or child abuse. The literature also indicates the importance of taking into account the possibly intersecting issues of age, gender and religion with ethnicity and race.

Within the UK, scholars have pointed out that public debates on forced marriage are mostly addressed in terms of immigration (Hossain nd.), and the ‘overseas dimensions’ of forced marriage, suggesting that there is sometimes a confusion within policy and practice on ‘false marriage’ and ‘forced marriage’ (Phillips and Dustin 2004: 535). Debates also examine the specific gendered and racialised nature of immigration law, based on images of the passive and dependent Asian women, and notions of South Asian families following patrilocality, that disadvantage both women migrating from abroad and women of South Asian origin who sponsor a spouse from abroad (Hall 2000). Some scholars address the ways in which some related immigration laws can encourage forced marriage such as the dual nationality provision in some cases (Hall 2000; An- Na’im nd.). It is suggested that some UK initiatives on forced marriages have a ‘civilising tone’ in the way that immigrants are expected to be ‘British’ (Razack 2004, 154), and that UK policies on forced marriage have created fears in some members of the ‘ethnic community’ that the government is using its campaign against forced marriage to tighten immigration rules (Skalbergs and Gulicova 2004).

Forced marriage both in the UK and in Europe has at times been constructed as pathology of some cultures, specifically of South Asian and/or Muslim communities (Samad and Eade 2002; Razack 2004) and Romani communties (Oprea 2005). Other literature suggests that forced marriage and child marriage are ‘harmful cultural’ practices (Interights 2000: 21) and therefore, there needs to be an assessment of ‘traditional laws’ that involves ‘women and girls who are affected by these laws’ (Outtarra 1998). Some literature grapples with the issue of how to avoid feeding into a celebration of European superiority or national identity while confronting and naming violent practices within minoritised communities, and notes the ways in which ‘culture clash’ works into strengthening racial stereotypes (Volpp 2000; Razack 2004: 154; Madsen 2003), while multicultural acceptance of cultural practices is identified as encouraging forced marriage (Razack 2004). It has also been suggested that forced marriage is a product of immigration rather than a ‘tradition’ from another context (Phillips and Dustin 2004, 543). There is also literature addressing how forced marriage is against the tenets of different religions (Caroll 1998) and a misinterpretation of culture (Gangoli et al. 2006).

Other literature has specifically examined forced marriage as forms of woman or child abuse. Home Office studies on forced marriage see a link with domestic violence; indeed forced marriage is conceptualised as a form of domestic violence (Uddin and Ahmed 2000). Feminist activists and scholars working on the issue have addressed forced marriage as an abuse of women’s human rights, and therefore as gender based violence (Siddiqui, 2002, Hossain nd., Gangoli et. al. 2006), and in the context of child marriage as a form of child abuse (Forum on Marriage, 2000; Ooto-Oyertey and Pobi, 2003) that has serious consequences for young girls including sexual assault and health risks associated with early pregnancy, high maternal and child mortality and increased risk of sexually transmitted diseases (Outtara et. al. 1998). In this sense child marriage is treated as forced marriage, due to the absence of free and full consent. Child marriage has also been conceptualised as a development issue, linked to poverty and practices such as bride price in Ethiopia (Ooto-Oyertey and Pobi, 2003) It has also been suggested that rights discourses on marriage can include in some cases the rights of parents, and rights of communities to preserve their identity, therefore there can be a conflict between rights of young persons and rights of families (Stobarrt 2002). In addition studies have pointed to migration increasing the vulnerability of women to experiencing the detrimental expressions of patriarchy, due to the barriers that immigrants encounter in accessing support and services. Migration may challenge gender roles in newly immigrant families, therefore creating stress that could culminate in domestic violence (Ahmed et. al. 2004).

Existing literature also shows the ways in which racism, gender and culture can intersect in relation to forced marriage. It is suggested that the intersectionality of gender, ethnicity, culture and immigration can increase women’s risks of experiencing patriarchal control (Ahmed 2004), especially in the context of forced marriage (Gangoli et. al. 2006). Some studies look at the ways in which communities have constructed arranged marriage as an integral part of their culture (Bhopal 1997). However, while there is a difference between arranged and forced marriage, there can also be slippage between the two in terms of experience (Shan 1991; Caroll 1998), and cultural notions such as izzat (honour) and sharam (shame) are used to silence young people in cases of forced marriage (Akbar 2005, Gangoli et. al. 2006). The concept of intersectionality therefore allows an examination of the power dynamics between and within communities and groups, thus helping to highlight the impact of different aspects of culture (Anthias 2002). The failure to work with intersectionality at a policy and practice level is reflected in the difficulties encountered by victims/survivors facing forced marriage and other forms of domestic violence (Batsleer et al 2002; Burman et al, 1998, Chantler et al, 2001)

While forced marriage has in recent years been considered mainly in the context of South Asian communities, analysis of case law in the UK between 1950 to the present reveals the much wider range of ethnic and religious communities that may be affected by forced marriage. Until the 1990s, forced marriage cases included women and men of many different ethnic and religious communities including Hungarian (H v. H 1953); Polish (Scechter v Scechter1971); ‘majority white’ (McLarnon v. McLarnon1968; Harper v Harper 1981) and South Asian (Singh v. Singh1971). However, more recent cases have been focused on issues of forced marriage primarily among South Asian communities (for example: Sohrab v. Khan 2002; P v. R 2003; KR 1999), and while judges have supported victims of forced marriage in the main, they have sometimes conceptualised forced marriage as a form of clash between eastern and western cultures (M Minors 2003; Sohrab v. Khan 2002; KR 1999). In some cases judges have commented on the issue of ‘consent’ as essentially contested and the legitimacy of parental pressure in some contexts and cases (Mahmood v. Mahmood 1993). Forced marriage has also been successfully used as one of the grounds for appeal in asylum cases for leave to remain in the UK (Afganistan CG 2004 UKIAT 00328).
4. Methodology

The very nature of forced marriage means that individuals experiencing such marriages are a ‘hard to reach group’. This makes it extremely difficult to develop accurate measures of the prevalence of forced marriages or to obtain reliable quantitative information. Instead, it was decided that the study should use a largely qualitative, approach employing a variety of methods that would enable exploration of the nature of forced marriages, the communities where it might be an issue, as well as any possible impacts of raising the minimum age of age for a sponsor, and of leave to enter the UK as a spouse or fiancé(e) from 16 to 18, or further to 21 or 24. Ethical approval was received from the Universities of Bristol and Manchester.

The research was carried out as two separate phases. Phase one acted as a scoping study, was located in Manchester and Tower Hamlets, and had the purpose of testing the methodology and developing the networks required for the larger study. The methodology used in phase one proved successful and was built upon in phase two of the research, where the research was extended to include three locations: Manchester and Tower Hamlets as in phase one, with the addition of Birmingham.
Tower Hamlets, Birmingham and Manchester were selected as the three case study areas as they have a high density of communities that have been identified as having the propensity for forced marriage. Whilst forced marriage is not restricted to particular religions or nationalities, the majority of reported cases have been from Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities. Twenty-four percent of the UK Bangladeshi diaspora live in Tower Hamlets and 13% of the UK Pakistani diaspora live in Birmingham. Manchester has one of the largest Black and minority ethnic communities outside of London. Manchester’s minority ethnic community makes up some 19% of the total population of the city. An informal study conducted by Sandhya Sharma in 2005 suggested there were 105 reported cases of forced marriages over the previous year just within the six central Manchester women’s refuges and outreach services.
Phase one of the research involved familiarization interviews, interviews with stakeholders and survivors, and database exploration. Twelve initial familiarization interviews were carried with a range of government officials, statutory sector organisations and NGOs identified by the Home Office and research team as significant on a national level. (see Appendix One for list of organisations interviewed).

Alongside these, semi-structured interviews were initially conducted with 23 stakeholders from a wide range of statutory and voluntary organisations in Manchester and in Tower Hamlets asking about their perception of forced marriage and involvement in such cases, the impacts of the recent change in the age of entry to 18, the potential benefits or risks of raising the age of entry to 21 or 24, and any data existing on forced marriage cases. Detailed notes were compiled from the interviews and where requested these were sent to participants for verification and amendments. (see Appendix One for list of organisations interviewed).

Eight female survivors of forced marriage were interviewed in phase one, who either identified themselves as being forced into marriage or testified to some degree of coercion at the point of entry into marriage. The women were identified through the stakeholder interviews, other networks and snowballing approaches. Interviews asked questions about experiences of marriage, views about the proposed legislation and potential benefits and risks. Survivors were sent a letter asking them if they would like to take part in the research, and explaining the terms of the research study with a copy of the interview schedule included. Interviews were conducted in the participant’s preferred language (a range of languages were available from the research team, and interpreters used in the few instances where other languages were needed). Where permission was given, interviews were taped and transcribed, and participants offered a copy of the transcript and/or tape to delete any material they did not wish to include for analysis. It was confirmed with the participants that taking the tape/transcript would not compromise their safety. (Appendix Two provides details of the survivor sample)
In familiarization visits and stakeholder interviews basic questions were asked about the databases of the organizations/ agencies concerned. Twelve departments/projects were identified by the project team in phase one as possible sources of systematic data on forced marriages. These included government departments, and statutory and voluntary sector agencies. Eight database managers or other relevant staff from these organizations were interviewed in depth at this stage about the content and structure of their databases. (see Appendix Three)

Phase two of the research involved a further familiarization interview, another 22 stakeholder interviews, interviews with a further 30 survivors of forced marriage and exploration of the datasets held by another 20 departments/projects (see Appendixes One, Two and Three for details). In addition, two further aspects were included: a mapping survey, and focus groups.

It was decided to carry out a mapping survey of organizations in the three locations to ascertain the extent to which different organizations/agencies were working with individuals experiencing forced marriage, and to obtain wider views regarding the research questions. The survey of organisations was preferred over and above further interviews with members of the community because it was considered less intrusive to participants, safer for both interviewee and interviewer as the interviews were not at the individual level and avoided individualisation of forced marriages by engaging at a community level. Altogether 143 agencies were contacted, and interviews conducted with 80 (55.9%). The agencies that did not respond included some with wrong addresses, refusal to participate because the study did not appear to fall within their remit, lack of time or the relevant person not being available to speak. Of the agencies taking part the vast majority were from the voluntary sector (n=56, 71.8%), with significant representation from the statutory sector (n=13, 16.7%) (see Appendix Five, table 1). The mapping survey was also used to identify further key stakeholders, who were then included in the stakeholder interview sample.

In addition, so that information regarding the practice and perceptions of forced marriage from a wider range of communities might be obtained, 15 focus groups were carried out with 97 individuals (82 women and 15 men) from South Asian, Chinese, Middle Eastern, African, Irish and lesbian friendly communities, and including a range of religious communities: Hindu, Christian, Sikh and Muslim, with a minority of respondents identifying themselves as atheists or non believers. Ages ranged from 15 to 60 and participants were also from different social classes. Where respondents were not British, they had a variety of immigration statuses, including indefinite leave to remain, refugee, work permit, dependent visa and student visa. To enable comparison across the groups a set of vignettes based on the victim and mapping survey interviews were used as a focus for discussion. Altogether twelve vignettes were developed using material from survivor and mapping survey interviews, all on the same theme but varied to reflect specific community experiences (Appendix Four provides details of each focus group and the vignettes).

To summarise, the research involved:


  • Familiarisation interviews with 13 individuals from a range of government departments, statutory sector organisations and NGOs.

  • Stakeholder interviews with 45 individuals across Birmingham, Manchester, and Tower Hamlets

  • In-depth interviews with 38 survivors of forced marriage (33 women and 5 men).

  • A mapping survey of 80 organisations providing advice on forced marriage to a range of communities across Birmingham (n=25), Manchester (n=25), and Tower Hamlets (n=30).

  • Twenty-eight departments/projects interviewed in depth about the content and structure of their databases.

  • Fifteen focus groups with a wide range of communities involving 97 individuals (82 women and 15 men) with ages ranging from 15 to 60.

This approach generated rich data on issues related to forced marriage, and also examined the research questions from different angles and in relation to different communities. The variety of methods used provided a degree of triangulation, and also enough breadth to allow general patterns to emerge.



4.1 Analysis

The interview and survey data were analysed using a thematic approach and using framework grids to aid the analysis (Ritchie & Lewis, 2003). Summaries were written for interviews, either from detailed notes or from transcriptions, and used to identify key themes (Banister et al., 1994). As interview data was analysed, themes emerging were compared to those for others in their group and similarities and differences identified. Each cluster of interviews were then analysed in relation to other clusters, drawing out parallels and contrasts. The analysis is in this sense both interpretative and also presents verbatim examples from participants to illustrate salient points.

With regard to the exploration of existing data-sets, ‘pen pictures’ of organisations’ databases were developed to allow comparative analysis. Included in the ‘pen pictures’ was information about the scope of the database (e.g. what are the criteria for inclusion in the database? How many records and fields are included?); properties (e.g. What format is the database in? How frequently is it updated?); context (e.g. When was the database created? What is the purpose of the database?); and previous analysis (e.g. Has the database been analysed for other purposes?). (See Appendix Three)
5. Definitional issues – what is ‘forced marriage’?
As can be seen from the definition of forced marriage, outlined in the introductory section above, the Home Office considers there to be a clear distinction between forced and arranged marriages with the difference relating to whether or not the individuals concerned consented to the marriage. We have found that in practice the definition is much more complex, and throughout the research questions have arisen regarding the definition of ‘forced marriage’ and how the issue is located within specific communities.

Definitional issues related to calling marriages ‘forced’ was raised in the familiarisation visits, in interviews conducted with stakeholders and with survivors, and were also discussed in the focus groups. The term ‘force’ was not thought to adequately cover issues of subtle pressure where a young person may not realise what was taking place until it is too late. This questions what counts as a forced marriage. Normally this is taken to mean a lack of consent at the point of entry into a marriage, but if the marriage arrangements are very rushed and the young person does not really understand what is happening, or does not have time to respond, or has been given inadequate information, then the notion of consent is questionable (and this also emerged in some of the survivor interviews – see section 7.1.2 below). In particular, there can be a ‘slippage’ between arranged and forced marriage, as the following focus group members pointed out:

P4: I would like to ask, how do you identify arranged marriage...sometimes forced marriage is based on arranged marriage (Chinese young women FG)
P3: They will arrange the marriage and if you reject the person they will forced you to marry the person. (South Asian Girls 6th Form College FG).

This also poses questions of exit options (particularly where consent has not been given or is questionable) and the pressure (emotional, physical, financial, cultural, immigration status etc) that is put upon women to stay in a forced marriage. How services conceptualise forced marriage partly determines the types of responses offered (where services are offered at all). As will be seen below, these issues are reflected to different degrees throughout the findings.





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