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Ban on child marriage is not stopping forced marriage abroad

  • Published on
    February 21, 2024
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  • Category:
    Forced Marriage
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One year ago, in February 2023, it became illegal in England and Wales for children to marry when the loophole that allowed 16 and 17 year olds to marry with parental consent was finally closed. Freedom United campaigned for this change to help end forced child marriage. However new data suggests that children are not being adequately protected, authorities are not clear on the new law and vital warning signs are being missed.

To illustrate how some British children are still being forced into marriage, the BBC spoke to Aiyesha*.

Betrayed by her own parents

At the tender age of 17, Aiyesha’s life took a drastic turn when her parents deceived her into a trip to Pakistan under the guise of a family holiday, only to force her into marrying her older cousin. This marked the beginning of a nightmarish four months for Aiyesha, where she found herself trapped in rural Pakistan, subjected to repeated rape and beatings by her husband.

Her aspirations of studying and traveling the world were cruelly replaced with a life of fear, vulnerability, and coercion. Aiyesha’s attempt to escape this dire situation led her to convince her family to return to the U.K. to earn money to send back to her husband. She reached out to a charity and escaped her family home together with her sister, who was next in line to get married.

“My parents knew about everything that happened to me in Pakistan – and they were a part of it. Things weren’t getting better and I made the decision one night: let’s gather our things and leave.” – Aiyesha, survivor of forced child marriage

Confronting honor-based abuse

New data shows that in 2022-23 in England and Wales, honor-based abuse offenses, like that committed by Aiyesha’s parents, are increasing. The varying responses by police forces across the country, alongside the lack of awareness among authorities, including schools and social workers, means warnings are being missed and women and girls in some areas of the country are at grave risk of harm.

“If your duty is to act on information to safeguard and protect vulnerable children but you don’t know the law has come in, that’s really problematic.” – Natasha Rattu, Director of Karma Nirvana

The dire consequences of rejecting a forced marriage can escalate to serious harm or even death. Aiyesha’s story serves as a stark reminder of the devastating impact of forced marriages and a call to action to support and empower victims to speak out against honor-based abuse.

You can help raise awareness about the dangers of forced child marriage and take a stance by signing our petition.

* Not her real name.

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