Criminalisation of Forced Marriage

The Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, which created the offence of using ‘violence, threats or any form of coercion for the purpose of causing another person to enter a marriage’, came into force in England and Wales on 16th June 2014.

There was concern that criminalisation would deter victims from seeking assistance and may drive the practice of forced marriage underground, but this does not seem to have been the case.

In the three months that followed the Act’s implementation, the number of applications for forced marriage protection orders, which are civil orders available under the Family Law Act 1996 to protect those at risk of being forced to marry, the number of orders granted rose considerably.

In the period 1st July – 30th September 2014, 63 applications were made compared with 38 in the period 1st April – 30th June 2014. 66 orders were made between 1st July and 30th September 2014, which is double the number made from April to June of the same year.

It is likely that the surge in applications was caused by increased awareness of forced marriage that resulted from the media attention that the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act received when it came into force, which replicates what happened in Denmark when forced marriage was criminalised in 2008. Applications and orders made fell during the last quarter of 2014, but increased in the first quarter of 2015 and again between April and June 2015, when 67 orders were made (Family Court Statistics Quarterly Tables 2015).

However, the number of orders made remains low in comparison with the number of cases reported to the Forced Marriage Unit, which was 1267 in 2014 (www.gov.uk/forced-marriage)

Furthermore, it is impossible to ascertain how many victims have declined to come forward because they do not want their family members to be prosecuted.

For further discussion of the criminalisation of forced marriage and the first conviction under the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, which occurred in June 2015, see R. Gaffney-Rhys ‘Criminalisation of Forced Marriage: One Year On’ (2015) Family Law November. P.1378

About the author: Dr. Ruth Gaffney-Rhys is a Reader in Law, specialising in Family Law. She is the founder and leader of the Women in Society Research Centre and co-director of the Centre for Gender Studies in Wales.

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