In a report published today, the Home Affairs Committee criticises the lack of progress made by successive Government towards addressing the concerns raised by its predecessor Committee in 2008.
Forced marriage remains an issue that affects thousands of young people in the UK—the Committee welcomes the fact that more at-risk individuals are coming forward to seek help but warns that there is insufficient support available to them, and that this situation is set to worsen with many specialist services particularly at risk from spending cuts.
The Committee is pleased with the relatively high take-up of Forced Marriage Protection Orders—293 issued between November 2008 and February 2011—but disappointed at a lack of agency follow-up to ensure compliance. In the rare instances where breaches are discovered, not enough action is taken, with only one individual jailed. It recommends that the Government, while maintaining this civil route, also criminalises forced marriage, as the Prime Minister promised to consider while in Opposition. This would send a stronger message that forced marriage will not be tolerated.
Our predecessors found that many school authorities were reluctant to take action to protect their pupils against forced marriage, in part because they feared accusations of racism. Evidence to the Committee suggests this situation has not changed: it therefore urges the Secretary of State to take a more pro-active approach to remind schools of their statutory responsibilities on an annual basis and make use of the inspection regime to improve performance.
The Committee has repeatedly raised the plight of estranged or abused partners who are under pressure from their families to sign a request for their spouses to have indefinite leave to remain in the UK, or who simply want to be kept informed of the progress of their spouse’s application, but are refused this information by the UK Border Agency because of data protection. During its inquiry, the Information Commission confirmed that there are situations in which data protection considerations can legitimately be overridden and the Committee therefore urges the UK Border Agency to encourage staff to use their discretion in these kinds of cases.
Rt. Hon Keith Vaz, Chairman of the Committee said:
"Forced Marriage is a serious issue that affects some of the most vulnerable individuals in the UK. I am very disappointed that progress on protection and awareness remains slow. I am also concerned that a loss of specialist support services due to spending cuts will stunt further progress.
We believe that the best way to deter people from forcing individuals into marriage is through criminalising forced marriage. Taking this bold step alongside providing a range of services supporting victims of violence and raising awareness in schools must be a priority for the Government. There should be zero tolerance of this harmful activity that ruins the lives of so many."