A small corner of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office’s London headquarters will be a tense place this week. The Forced Marriage Unit, whose small team of seven is based at the department’s Whitehall offices, is now in the midst of its most stressful period: the summer holidays.
July is typically its busiest month as families seize the opportunity to take their daughters (and sons) abroad to get married, free from the restrictions presented by the school term. Last year the unit dealt with 147 cases in July, the highest monthly tally in an annual total of more than 1,200.
The joint Home Office and Foreign Office operation is responsible for organising the response to any British victim of forced marriage needing assistance in the UK or abroad. It consists of five case workers and two unit heads, Chaz Akoshile and Lucy Monaghan.
Speaking in their offices, Ms Monaghan said the increase in calls was already noticeable. “I’d say for the past two weeks there’s been a sudden spike in calls and it’s where people are starting to mention that they’re going on holiday this summer.”
She added: “It will be a nervous few weeks for the unit as we have a number of cases where teenagers and young adults are going overseas.
“Unfortunately it is likely that come September more cases will come to light as teachers notice that students aren’t returning to school or university.”
A few weeks ago Ms Monaghan took a call from a teacher at a sixth form college, in a case bearing the hallmarks of many others that her team has dealt with in the past few weeks. “The teacher explained that a 16-year-old student mentioned to them he was going on holiday to visit his mum’s family over the holidays, and had overheard discussion of a wedding taking place and what a big day it will be for him,” she said. “He wasn’t sure if the wedding is intended for him or not, but when he asked his parents about the wedding, they denied any wedding was taking place.”
The teenager had reason to be fearful; his cousin had been forced to marry during the same holiday two years ago, and is just one year older than him. “The student was in the room with the teacher and I was able to chat to him on the phone. He was keen to still travel on the holiday as he goes every few years and looks forward to seeing family, but was concerned he might be forced to marry.
Countries where sexual violence has become a way of life
Countries where sexual violence has become a way of life
Recommendation: I urge the Government of Afghanistan to adopt legislative reforms to ensure that sexual violence offences are not conflated with adultery or “morality crimes” and to establish infrastructure for the delivery of protection, health and le gal services to survivors. I call on the Ministry of the Interior to accelerate efforts to integrate women into the Afghan National Police, thereby enhancing its outreach and its capacity to address sexual and gender-based violence
2/19 Central African Republic
Recommendation: I urge the authorities of the Central African Republic to ensure that efforts to restore security and the rule of law take into account the prevention of sexual violence and that monitoring of the ceasefire and peace agreement explicitly reflects this consideration, in line with the joint communiqué of the Government and the United Nations on the prevention of and response to conflict-related sexual violence signed in December 2012. I further encourage the authorities to make the rapid response unit to combat sexual violence operational and to establish a special criminal court
Recommendation: I commend the Government of Colombia for the progress made to date and its collaboration with the United Nations, including through the visit of my Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict in March 2015. I encourage the authorities to implement Law 1719 and continue to prosecute cases of sexual violence committed during the conflict to ensure that survivors receive justice and receive reparations. Conflict-related sexual violence should continue to be addressed in the Havana peace talks, as well as in the resulting accords and transitional justice mechanisms. Particular attention should be paid to groups that face additional barriers to justice such as ethnic minorities, women in rural areas, children, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex individuals and women abused within the ranks of armed groups. I encourage the Government to scale up its protection measures and share its good practices with other conflict-affected countries
Recommendation: I urge the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to ensure full implementation of the armed forces action plan against sexual violence, to systematically bring perpetrators to justice and to deliver reparations to victims, including payment of outstanding compensation awards. I call on donors and the United Nations system to support the Government in its efforts and to pay increased attention to neglected areas, including unregulated mining regions
Recommendation: I commend the Government of Iraq for its national action plan for the implementation of Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) and urge its swift implementation, including by training its security forces to ensur e respect for women’s rights. Programmes to support the social reintegration of women and girls released from captivity by ISIL are urgently needed, as is community-based medical and psychological care. The capacity of the United Nations system should be enhanced through the deployment of Women’s Protection Advisers or equivalent specialists
Recommendation: I urge the national authorities in Libya to implement Decree No. 119 and Resolution 904 of 2014 to ensure redress for all victims, including those affected by the current conflict, through the establishment of multisectoral services and the adoption of legislation to categorically prohibit sexual violence
Recommendation: I urge the Government of Mali, with support from United Nations Action against Sexual Violence in Conflict, to develop a comprehensive national strategy to combat sexual and gender-based violence and to ensure the safety of humanitarian workers so that services can reach remote areas. I further call on all parties to ensure that conflict-related sexual violence is addressed in the inter-Malian dialogue and that perpetrators of sexual violence do not benefit from amnesty or early release
Recommendation: I urge the Government of Myanmar to continue with its reform agenda and, in the process, take practical and timely actions to protect and support survivors of conflict-related sexual violence and to ensure that security personnel accused of such crimes are prosecuted. Sexual violence should be an element in all ceasefire and peace negotiations, excluded from the scope of amnesty provisions and addressed in transitional justice processes. It is critical that women be able to participate consistently in and influence these processes
Recommendation: I reiterate my call to the Federal Government of Somalia to implement the commitments made under the joint communiqué of 7 May 2013 and its national action plan to combat sexual violence in conflict, including specific plans for the army and the police. I encourage the adoption of a sexual offences bill as a matter of priority
10/19 South Sudan
Recommendation: I urge the parties to the conflict in South Sudan to adopt action plans to implement the commitments made under their respective communiqués. I call upon the Government of South Sudan to address the negative impact of customary law on women’s rights and to reflect international human rights standards in national law. I also encourage the African Union to make public and act upon the report of its Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan
11/19 Sudan (Darfur)
Recommendation: I call upon the Government of the Sudan to grant the United Nations and its humanitarian partners unfettered access for monitoring and the provision of assistance to people in need in Darfur. Given that there has been grave concern over sexual violence in Darfur for more than a decade, I encourage the Government to engage with my Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict to develop a framework of cooperation to address the issue comprehensively
Recommendation: I acknowledge the Government’s invitation to my Special Representative to visit the Syrian Arab Republic and call upon the authorities, in the context of such a visit, to agree on specific measures to prevent sexual violence, including by members of the security forces. I condemn the use of sexual violence by ISIL and all other parties listed in the annex to the present report and call on them to cease such violations immediately and allow unfettered access for the delivery of humanitarian assistance
Recommendation: I urge the authorities in Yemen to undertake legislative reform as a basis for addressing impunity for sexual violence, ensuring the provision of services for survivors and aligning the minimum legal age of marriage with international standards. I further call on the authorities to engage with local community and faithbased leaders to address sexual and gender-based violence and discriminatory social norms
14/19 Bosnia and Herzegovina
Recommendation: I urge the relevant authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina to harmonize legislation and policies so that the rights of survivors of conflict-related sexual violence to reparations are consistently recognized and to allocate a specific budget for this purpose. I further call upon the authorities to protect and support survivors participating in judicial proceedings through, inter alia, referrals to free legal aid, psychosocial and health services, as well as economic empowerment programmes
15/19 Ivory Coast
Recommendation: I urge the Government of Côte d’Ivoire to ensure the effective implementation of its national strategy to combat gender-based violence and the action plan for FRCI, and call on the international community to support these efforts. It is critical to accelerate disarmament, demobilization and reintegration and strengthen law enforcement to ensure that ex-combatants who have been reintegrated into the transport sector do not pose a risk to women and girls who are reliant on those services. The Government and the international community must provide monitoring and awareness-raising to mitigate the possibility of a recurrence of sexual violence in the context of the presidential elections to be held in October 2015
Recommendation: I call on the Government of Liberia to continue its critical efforts to combat sexual and gender-based violence including through the United Nations-Government of Liberia Joint Programme, and in the context of recovery from the Ebola virus epidemic
Recommendation: I encourage the Government to ensure that survivors of conflict-related sexual violence are recognized under the law as “conflict victims”, which will enable them to access services, judicial remedies and reparations. I further call on all parties involved in the transitional justice process to ensure that the rights and needs o f survivors of sexual violence are addressed in institutional reforms and that these crimes are excluded from amnesties and statutes of limitations
18/19 Sri Lanka
Recommendation: I call upon the newly elected Government of Sri Lanka to investigate allegations of sexual violence, including against national armed and security forces, and to provide multisectoral services for survivors, including reparations and economic empowerment programmes for women at risk, including war widows and female heads of household
Recommendation: I encourage the Government to implement its national action plan on the implementation of Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) to ensure that women’s protection concerns are mainstreamed throughout its security operations. I also call upon the authorities to guarantee security in and around internally displaced persons camps and to extend medical and psychosocial services to high-risk areas
“He was nervous and didn’t want his parents to get in trouble, especially as nothing yet has happened. He was also a bit embarrassed and regularly said that boys are not forced into marriage.”
Ms Monaghan explained Forced Marriage Protection Orders to the student. These can be taken out against family members to ensure they do not try and go ahead with a marriage.
He was initially wary, but after further conversation an order was taken out on the father to ensure his son returns on an agreed date and is not forced into marriage.
The father, who is not going on the trip, has also handed in his passport temporarily. The family leave for their holiday later this month.
The unit’s sparse office sits high up in the FCO’s headquarters in a quiet corner behind the consular assistance team. A handful of desks are surrounded by maps of the Asian subcontinent and a case work noticeboard.
A small chink of levity is provided by a selection of bloopers from call-ins pinned to the wall (“Is this the secret marriage unit?” and “You’re like another mum”).
Judging from the scale of the operation, it would struggle without the support of the specialist charities with which it teams up. One of these, Southall Black Sisters, has supported more than 80 of its repatriations over the past year – meeting frightened returnees at the airport when they arrive back in Britain, having been saved from a marriage, and helping them settle safely into a new life in the UK.
The unit also does work speaking in schools and helping the police and other services to spot the crime and help victims. Ms Monaghan believes more needs to be done to make sure front-line staff know how to deal with the issue. “I think we do need more awareness from professionals – teachers, social workers, police – as to what a forced marriage is and what the risk factors are,” she said.
“But also raising awareness among children and teenagers because we do see that sometimes the perpetrator of these crimes is a British-born older brother who’s actually got a good standing in the family and is putting that pressure on.
“Ultimately I think it’s going to be about changing the views of young people in this country, so that all the way through, the difference between arranged and forced marriage is clear.”Reuse content