On 27th November 2012, in honour of the UN Day of Elimination of Violence Against Women,  The Judith Trust participated in The Women’s Federation for World Peace event ‘Is Forced and/or Arranged Marriage an Honour or a Dishonour?’, hosted by Lord King.

Baroness Scotland QC said that forced marriage affects everyone, from all races, religions, classes and that it affects men as well as women.  It is a truly global phenomenon, something which was reinforced by Betty Makoni, girls’ right activist from Zimbabwe, who spoke of the harrowing sexual experiences of young girls and women at the hands of older men.  Preti Kaur, a Forced Marriage survivor who now works for he Forced Marriage Unit, spoke of her experiences and how she now helps others to escape forced marriages.

The importance of differentiating between an arranged marriage, in which both parties consent, and a forced marriage, where one or both parties do not, or cannot, consent, was stressed.  Lord King introduced himself as a happy beneficiary of a successful arranged marriage!

The Judith Trust outlined the key issues which differ when understanding forced marriage in relation to people with learning disabilities:

  • FMU statistics show 78% of cases of forced marriage referred to them are women, but where the victim has a learning disability it is about equal between genders
  • Most arranged marriages happen between 16-25 years old; the process of Transition between children and adult services can make the signs harder to spot and responses might be less well co-ordinated
  • People with learning disabilities might not be under duress – they might be quite excited about the wedding, but may not understand the full implications in terms of where they will live, entering into sexual relations and the expectation of having children
  • Most forced marriage disclosures come from the individual concerned, but people with learning disabilities might lack the understanding or communicative abilities to do this; they may also be socially isolated and lack a trusted person to talk to
  • A family member might be open about the marriage – they may feel they are doing their best for the person, providing a carer and financial security, whilst preserving traditions and building family ties.  Good intentions do not make it acceptable if the person cannot consent
  • People with learning disabilities may have even fewer options and even greater challenges than others in leaving a forced marriage.  They may be dependent on their family for care, which refuges often cannot provide.  They may lack financial autonomy.  They may lack the skills to plan ahead and arrange their exit from the marriage
  • The prospective spouse may not be aware of the situation before the wedding; this disproportionally affects women who are chosen as a life-long partner and carer for men with disabilities.  Ignorance does not negate responsibility
  • The Mental Capacity Act outlines how capacity is assessed, for each decision at a particular point in time.  It is never acceptable to consent on someone else’s behalf, in their ‘best interests’ to marriage, civil partnership or sexual relations
  • The Judith Trust co-wrote the Forced Marriage Unit’s Multi-Agency Practice Guidelines on Forced Marriage and Learning Disabilities which can be found here