Family Law Articles
Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007 (‘FMA’)
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In the late 1990s there was official recognition of forced marriages and that they had to be addressed despite fear of offending cultural sensitivities.
A working group report led to the establishment of the Forced Marriage Unit, a consultation paper, a private members bill and, eventually, the FMA which, last November, celebrated its first anniversary.
The FMA focuses on forced marriages which must be distinguished from arranged marriages which are traditional institutions supported by many cultures and societies. The significant difference between the two is that arranged marriages are entered into freely and willingly whereas forced marriages take place where one or both of the parties do not consent to the arrangement.
What the court can do
The FMA gives the court wide powers to make orders which are considered appropriate to protect a person from being forced into marriage, from attempts to force them to do so and to protect a person who has been forced into such a marriage. Types of order are not specified and can take many forms. The orders include prohibiting someone from threatening or using force to requiring a person to hand over passports or disclose the individuals' whereabouts. The terms of the order will depend on and fit the circumstances of each case.
Who can apply?
One unusual feature of the FMA is that not only can the person at risk apply for protection themselves but others can apply on their behalf. This option recognises the fact that the circumstances the orders are aimed at addressing often involve individuals who may be unable to take action themselves due to physical, geographical, psychological or other limitations and restraints.
Who are the orders against?
Reflecting the dynamics in which forced marriages arise, an unusual feature for a protection order offered by the FMA, is that orders can extend beyond people who are directly involved in abuse to those who are involved in "other respects" such as those who counsel, procure, encourage or assist another to force a person into marriage. Indeed, the order can extend to persons who are not currently involved but may become involved.
The issues the FMA seeks to address relate to what are in reality criminal acts and fundamental human rights abuses which have for centuries been the way of life of the community in which the abuse operates.
Statistics show that there has been greater use of the FMA in its first year than was anticipated and this Act must be welcomed as the first legislative step in dealing with a problem which is no doubt far greater than the statistics tell us. The FMA gives vulnerable people options and protection which their particular circumstances require.
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