Forced marriage legislation could isolate society's most vulnerable, experts warn

08 Jun 2012 10:58:29.907


New legislation on forced marriage could put vulnerable adults and children with learning disabilities at risk, according to experts at the Ann Craft Trust.

The recent announcement by the Prime Minister that forced marriage will be made a criminal offence will mean that parents who make children marry against their will could be jailed. But serious concerns have been raised about whether this could lead to a fear of reporting forced marriages.

“Forced marriage has far reaching implications for everyone who works with children or vulnerable adults. 53 of the forced marriages reported to the Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) in 2010 involved a child or adult with a learning disability, said Deborah Kitson, Chief Executive of the Ann Craft Trust — a charity committed to safeguarding disabled children and vulnerable adults from abuse, which is based in the School of Sociology and Social Policy at The University of Nottingham.

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“This figure is likely to be the tip of the iceberg. There is existing legislation that can be applied to the crimes associated with forced marriage including kidnap, assault and rape.  What we must do is build up the confidence of people to report forced marriage. 

“Victims will not be encouraged to report with the additional pressure that by reporting their families will end up facing a prison sentence. In addition, people with learning disabilities very often rely on third parties to raise the issue and report on their behalf — this new criminal offence could result in deterring third party reporting of unsubstantiated concerns which may result in prison for the families that they are working with.”

“It is difficult to see how the proposed new legislation will help protect disabled children and vulnerable adults from forced marriage – it will not make recognition of the problem any easier and scarce resources could be better used on education and support” said Rachael Clawson, lecturer in social work at the University and author of the national practice guidance Forced Marriage and Learning Disabilities (FMU, 2010).

“The guidance provides information for professionals to assist them in their work, but this guidance will only be effective if they are aware of, and understand, its relevance to their own particular area of practice. All services working with children and/or vulnerable adults need to have in place robust safeguarding procedures for those individuals who may be in need of protection and these should include forced marriage.” 

The Ann Craft Trust believes that collaborative working and increasing confidence to report while implementing the legislation already in place are the ways that forced marriage should be tackled.

 “We fear that the new criminal offence will deter rather than encourage the reporting of forced marriage and so leave the victims isolated and unheard,” Rachael Clawson added.

For more information on the Ann Craft Trust visit

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Rachael Clawson, Lecturer in Social Work, School of Sociology and Social Policy at
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