Forced marriage deserves attention

Dr Ruth Gaffney-Rhys Dr Ruth Gaffney-Rhys is a lecturer researche and co-director of the Centre for Gender Studies in Wales. She specialises in family law, often with an international human rights element. In 2009 she established the Women in Society Journal, a bi-annual peer reviewed multi-disciplinary publication for research relating to women and gender.

This research paper examines the newly enacted Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, which received much media attention due to the concerns expressed by religious groups that they would be forced to allow same sex couples to marry in their church or religious building.


FAMILY LAW MATTERS to each and every one of us because it affects each and every one of us. We will all face at least some of the issues covered by family law. We all have parents and most of us will form personal relationships and have children. Many of these relationships will end in separation or divorce and there may be disputes relating property, finances and children. We will all encounter death in the family at some point. Given the impact that family law has, it is important for academics to comment on the effectiveness and appropriateness of the law.

I analyse the law from the perspective of women and the protection of human rights

My research involves a critical analysis of different aspects of the law relating to marriage such as forced marriage, child marriage, polygamy, non-compliant marriage ceremonies and same-sex relationships. I often analyse the law from the perspective of women and the protection of human rights. The more academics criticise the law and identify flaws in the system, the more likely it is that the law will be changed.

There are always new cases, new legislation and new proposals to consider. For example, I wrote my first article on forced marriage in 2005 when the Government was first considering criminalising the practice. Since then, legislation, namely, the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007, has been enacted to enable victims to apply to the civil courts for a protection order.

I have written extensively on this subject and as more and more cases reach the courts I am given the opportunity to comment on the effectiveness of the legislation. In June 2012 the Government announced that it intends to make forcing someone into a marriage a specific criminal offence: I then wrote a paper on the appropriateness of this course of action.

Due to my expertise in forced marriage, I have recently been asked to compile a report for the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on challenges and best practice relating forced marriage.

My most recent research paper concerns the newly enacted Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, which received much media attention due to the concerns expressed by religious groups that they would be forced to allow same sex couples to marry in their church or religious building.

My article considers the fact that the legislation extends marriage to same sex couples but does not open up civil partnerships to opposite sex couples. This issue has been largely overlooked and in my opinion, constitutes a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.