Understanding forced marriage in Scotland

Research carried out to better understand forced marriage in Scotland.

1: Introduction

Forced marriage is widely recognised at a national and international level as a violation of women's and children's human rights and as a form of violence against women and children. Globally, forced and early marriage takes place in large numbers of countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Forced Marriage has also been a feature of many orthodox religious communities and of 'shotgun' marriages in the West (Hester et al, 2007; Chantler and Gangoli, 2011). In policy arenas, forced marriage is presented as distinct from arranged marriage. This is an important distinction, but it is also important to recognise the 'slippage' that can occur from arranged to forced marriage (Gangoli et al, 2011).

Within the EU there have been a number of legal interventions to combat Forced Marriage: i) civil remedies, ii) creating a specific criminal offence of forced marriage and iii) increasing the age of sponsorship and marriage for those marrying non EU nationals. Although the criminalisation of forced marriage is a requirement of the Istanbul Convention, it is a controversial decision and has been hotly debated in Scotland. In Scotland, the Forced Marriage etc (Protection and Jurisdiction) (Scotland) Act 2011 (which will be referred to, for brevity, as 'the 2011 Act'), which came into force on 28 November 2011, provides civil protection in the form of Forced Marriage Protection Orders ( FMPO) for those at risk of forced marriage as well as those already in forced marriages. Although a civil order, breaching a FMPO is a criminal offence. A specific criminal offence of forcing someone to marry in Scotland was created under section 122 of the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 (which will be referred to, for brevity, as 'the 2014 Act'), and came into force on 30th September 2014.

To date, 12 FMPOs have been issued in Scotland, and it is timely to investigate potential explanations for this relatively low take up of legal remedies. There are well documented personal, institutional, community and wider-level barriers to reporting forced marriage, and these may be heightened where legal remedies are proposed. It is also unknown whether breaches of FMPOs have been reported, and the consequences of reporting or not reporting. Further, the impact of criminalising Forced Marriage is as yet unknown, as is the relationship between civil and criminal responses.

Both the Statutory Guidance and Multi-Agency Practitioner Guidance were published to coincide with the commencement, on 28 November 2011, of the 2011 Act, and were updated in September 2014 to coincide with the commencement, in Scotland, of the 2014 Act [3] . The Statutory Guidance describes the responsibilities of chief executives, directors and senior managers within statutory agencies involved in handling cases of forced marriage. It covers roles and responsibilities, accountability, training, interagency working and information sharing, risk assessment and information sharing, risk assessment and record keeping. The Multi-Agency Practitioner Guidance is intended to inform all frontline staff and volunteers within agencies (statutory or third sector) who are likely to come across adults or children and young people threatened with or in a forced marriage and who are at risk of the abuse associated with this. It includes a Q&A section covering a range of questions, case studies covering a range of scenarios, and links to more detailed information.

This Guidance was developed in collaboration with a wide range of stakeholders, including representatives from the NHS and local authorities, Police Scotland, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, Scottish Women's Aid, Shakti Women's Aid, Hemat Gryffe Women's Aid, Amina Muslim Women's Resource Centre and Roshni. It makes it clear that forced marriage is both a child protection and adult protection matter, and that specific forced marriage legislation should be used in conjunction with routine child and adult protection legislation. It explains how the civil and criminal legislation complement each other, adding layers of protection. It also sets out that if forced marriage is an issue, practitioners must never attempt family counselling, mediation, arbitration or reconciliation, or share information with family/friends/community members, because this can put victim(s) at further risk.

Within the UK context, the minority ethnic women's sector has been raising awareness of forced marriage over the last twenty five years ( e.g. Southall Black Sisters, Karma Nirvana) based on a wealth of experience of supporting women experiencing forced marriage. In Scotland, key agencies such as Hemat Gryffe Women's Aid, Shakti Women's Aid and Scottish Women's Aid have been active in raising awareness of forced marriage and, along with Saheliya and Roshni, respond to victims of forced marriage and offer training to a range of professionals to increase awareness of forced marriage.

This study builds on previous work on forced marriage research in Scotland and England to better understand Scottish professionals' understandings of forced marriage and potential legal responses as well as barriers to working in this field. Scotland already has forced marriage legislation and guidelines in place, and training on forced marriage has been widely available. In view of these interventions, the study had three research questions:

1. What is the level and profile of service use relating to forced marriage in Scotland?

2. How are services responding to forced marriage in Scotland?

3. What is the impact of the interventions for forced marriage in Scotland?


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