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Scottish Forced Marriage Law at a Crossroads

Recently, the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 made forcing someone into marriage a crime in England and Wales, almost 3 years after the Forced Marriage etc (Protection and Jurisdiction) (Scotland) Act 2011, which aims to prevent anyone forcing marriage upon another and to protect those if a forced marriage has already taken place, was introduced in Scotland.

After the 2014 Act came into force last month, Home Secretary Theresa May described the UK as a “world leader” in the fight to outlaw forced marriage and protect the victims of the harmful practice. Whether this is actually true is questionable.

Despite there being an estimated 8,000 women in the UK forced into marriage each year, it has recently been reported that there have been no prosecutions at all in Scotland since the Forced Marriage etc (Protection and Jurisdiction) (Scotland) Act 2011 was passed. In response to this, the Scottish Government is looking to take action. First, there is a proposal to increase the jail sentence to 7 years – in line with England – and secondly, to make forced marriage an immediate criminal offence, in contrast with the current provisions which only turn the practice from a civil matter into a criminal offence once a protection order has been breached.

While the tougher sanctions will be supported by many, such as the Cabinet Secretary Shona Robison who described it as an “inspiration and a deterrent”, there could be merit in the argument that the proposed changes will exacerbate the problem.

This is the view held by certain women’s charities, who from their grassroots experience fear that it will not empower victims to come forward to the authorities, but in fact quite the opposite, as communities will put even more pressure on victims to keep quiet and comply with the oppressive tradition which amounts to a violation of human rights.

Commenting on the issue, Rajni Pandher of women’s aid group Hemat Gryffe in Glasgow, said: “In 2013-2014, at least 14 victims of forced marriage who’ve come forward claim the fear of antagonising their parents and community stops them from reporting it.”

Further, Shaykh Amer Jamil, a Muslim scholar who campaigns against forced marriage in Scotland said a more effective answer would be “long-term sustained education and awareness”, and believes that “once you change that mindset, then automatically behavior will change.”   

While the Scottish Government needs to think carefully before making their next move in relation to forced marriage, they have unveiled new strategy, aimed at tackling violence against Scotland’s women. As part of plan, the criminal justice system and in particular the sexual offence and domestic abuse laws will be reviewed with new criminal offences being created where thought necessary.

Forced Marriage Legal Help in Glasgow

Our criminal and family law solicitors based in Glasgow have the experience to help and advise you in relation to any forced marriage issue. To get in touch please complete our online enquiry form. Alternatively, you can drop in to one of our offices.