20th April 2012 Laws against forced marriage
We are grassroots activists and professionals working in two countries where forced marriage is a criminal offence – Germany and Belgium – and Sweden, where the government is likely to make a proposal to criminalise forced marriage in May.
Dr Aisha Gill and others argue (Letters, 6 April) that sufficient protection for victims of forced marriage is available under the existing criminal code, which punishes kidnap, violence and gross violations of women's rights etc. This does not take account of the fact that forced marriage involves very much more than any one of these individual offences. Victims are often threatened with violence by people close to them and regularly within the home for months or even years. The law does not protect victims from the emotional coercion that this involves.
Dr Gill et al also argue that criminalising forced marriage will deter victims from reporting incidents. While the criminalisation laws are relatively recent in Germany and Belgium and comprehensive statistics are not yet readily available, there is evidence that criminalisation has led to an increase in reporting in Denmark, which criminalised forced marriages in 2008.
One of the key successes of criminalising forced marriage in Germany and Belgium has been to strengthen the resolve of families or individuals who need help to resist pressure from others to marry a family member or other whom they have not themselves chosen. The penal provision provides them with the confidence to be better able to withstand these pressures and maintain their right under the law not to be subjected to coercion.
Finally, we believe that criminalising forced marriage has educated relevant practitioners and increased knowledge among relevant authorities for the benefit of the victims, who would not necessarily receive the physical protection that they very often need in these situations.
Ahmad Mansour, Berlin
Sara Mohammad, Stockholm, Sweden
Michelle Waelput, Mons, Belgium
Tulay Demarcq, Mons-Quévy, Belgium
Roberta Bonazzi, Brussels