Conference Highlights Urgent Help
West Midlands Police is playing a lead role in highlighting the plight of people with learning disabilities being forced into marriage by relatives wanting to land readymade carers or UK visas for overseas spouses.
Officers from Team Sentinel – set-up to tackle ‘hidden’ crimes like domestic abuse, ‘honour’ violence, modern-day slavery and forced marriage – will address a disability conference in Birmingham tomorrow (28 Jan) alongside charities and the national Forced Marriage Unit.
New laws were introduced last June in England and Wales which made forced marriage a criminal offence punishable by up to seven years in prison.
However, police have identified a growing concern of people with learning disabilities – many without the mental capacity to consent to marriage – being forced into wedlock by parents.
In 2013, almost 100 such cases were investigated by UK police – including 10 in Birmingham and two in Sandwell – but experts suspect the true extent of the problem is far more prevalent.
West Midlands Police Sergeant Trudy Runham, who’s set to deliver a talk at Birmingham University’s Health Services Centre in Park Road, Edgbaston, said: “Sometimes people with learning difficulties are being forced into marriage by parents looking to secure a long-term carer for themselves in old age or for their disabled child.
“Another common motivators include trying to gain financial security, to obtain a visa for a non-UK resident, cultural pressures, or even out of a belief that marriage will somehow ‘cure’ the sufferer of their disability.
“I’m in no doubt it’s a vastly under-reported crime because the victims often don’t realise they’re being forced to marry or are easily coerced – and they are reliant on others to spot the signs and raise concerns with police or support groups.
“In many cases the families are receiving social or health care services so one of the aims of the conference is to highlight the issue amongst our council and NHS partners, plus wider communities, and urge them to look out for the signs report any concerns to police.”
Of the 97 cases investigated by the Forced Marriage Unit most involved victims aged under-25 – with many still at school – whilst only a small minority were judged to have the mental capacity to be able to consent to marriage.
The majority of marriages take place in Pakistan, Bangladesh and India but around a fifth happened in the UK.
Sgt Runham (pictured with a forced marriage victim), added: “Forced marriage is a serious offence and often linked to sexual offences, domestic abuse and ‘household slavery’. West Midlands Police is committed to tackling the issue and has created Team Sentinel to help victims, identify offenders and work with affected communities.
“Every year it is estimated that between 8,000 and 10,000 people in the UK are forced into a marriage – that’s 30 per day. We have specially trained officers who will guide and support victims to help free them from force marriages or take action to prevent one occurring.”
Tomorrow’s conference will also feature speakers from the national Forced Marriage Unit, Nottingham University – which has researched force marriage statistics – and the Ann Craft Trust.
West Midlands Police has launched a video competition entitled I do, I don’t, I won’t that encourages 13- to 21-year-olds to highlight the issue of forced marriage through song, dance, theatre, animation or any other artistic style.
For full details of the competition go to www.west-midlands.police.uk/honourabuse and for more about forced marriage and ‘honour-based’ violence visit www.west-midlands.police.uk/honourabuse
If you suspect someone is in danger of being forced into marriage call West Midlands Police on the 101 number.