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Charity say police and local authorities have failed to encourage victims of forced marriage to report

Date: (17 September 2012)    |    

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A Freedom of Information request submitted by a charity has found that that police and local authorities in Wales were not doing enough to encourage victims of forced marriage to come forward and report. It found just two people contacted Dyfed Powys Police for help in three years.
Though the North Wales Police refused to say how many forced marriage referrals it had received between April 2009 and March 2012, but it is being believed that just one person came forward in that time as confirmed by a freedom information officer.
Gwent Police said it was unable to provide exact figures because the term “forced marriage” was not searchable on its systems, but admitted it dealt with just a “small number” of cases each year. The force has now put a standard reporting procedure in place.
By contrast, South Wales Police was approached 71 times by people who had either been forced into an unwanted marriage or who were at risk of it.
Shahien Taj MBE, founder and executive director of the Cardiff-based Henna Foundation, said that there was issue of proportion, as there were expected levels of fewer referrals in North and Mid Wales than South Wales, but despite an expectation there were many people in those areas suffering in forced marriages or at risk of them.
He said he felt there were two problems there. Firstly, there was a lack of confidence in the authorities because the victims did not know what was going to happen if they come forward, it was like knowing the problem could be solved rather than not knowing what was in store.
He added that the local authorities have statutory guidance on forced marriage but the other question was whether they were effectively executing the protocols, which are not.
The Home Office has estimated there are at least 5,000 to 8,000 cases of forced marriage in England every year. In Wales, experts estimate hundreds of children and adults could be at risk.
Forced marriage, common among South Asian, Middle Eastern, Gypsy-Romany and Eastern European families, is defined by the Home Office as “a marriage without the consent of one or both parties and where duress is a factor”.
The definition of duress was extended to include any means by which a person was coerced to do something against their will, including emotional blackmail.
Police forces have been given guidelines by the FMU on how to deal with forced marriage referrals, while statutory guidance issued in 2008 under the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007 provided councils and other agencies with similar guidelines.
A Gwent Police spokeswoman said that now there was measures in place to provide data around forced marriage and interrogate the data further to show which case also related to domestic abuse, child protection or honour based violence.
A spokesman for the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) said councils, police and other agencies needed to “work together” to tackle the issue and that local authorities in Wales had to share a responsibility for safeguarding young children and adults from the abuses associated with forced marriage.