Hands chained together

The judge ruled there was substantial risk of forced marriage.

It has emerged that two girls living in Northern Ireland have been made the subject of a court order to stop them being forced into marriage in Pakistan.

The court ruled there was a “real and substantial risk” they would be forced to marry.  The girls, now aged 12 and 14, became wards of court in 2007 after their parents made plans to send them to Pakistan.  Two of their older brothers had been forced into marriage there in 2005.

In 2007 one of the brothers informed the authorities that his parents, both British Muslims of Pakistani descent, were planning to send his sisters to live in Pakistan.  He expressed concern they would force his sisters into marriage.  In the wardship proceedings that followed, the mother said she was sending the girls to Pakistan to be educated there.

“Substantial risk”

However, the court found she had made no arrangements for this, and that letters produced as evidence the girls had been accepted by a school in Pakistan had been forged. An emergency wardship application was put in place, but this was an interim measure and the case was brought back before the court in March.  The mother told the court she no longer wished her daughters to be educated in Pakistan.

She said what had occurred with her eldest sons in 2005 was not an indicator of what would happen to her daughters, and her two youngest sons had been to Pakistan since then without being forced to marry.  However, Mr Justice Stephens’ ruling supported earlier judgements that the girls were to be sent to Pakistan in 2007 to be forced into marriage.  He said if the girls were to go to Pakistan for a holiday this would be a “pretext” and there remains a “substantial risk” they would be forced to marry.  The judge discharged the wardship order, as there were no “concerns of care” other than forced marriage.  Instead he put in place a forced marriage protection order.

“Criminal” techniques

A factor in Justice Stephen’s decision was the forced marriages of the girls’ two oldest brothers.  In November 2005, the two brothers went to a police station in Northern Ireland and said they had been forced to marry on a trip to Pakistan with their father.  The younger brother, who was around 15 at the time, said the first he heard of his parent’s plans for his marriage was on the flight to Pakistan.  On arriving in Pakistan the father put pressure on his sons to agree to the marriages.  He locked them in a room, beat them and confiscated their passports.

The boys were eventually cajoled into marriage on the understanding that the “wedding” would be a front to get the girls visas.  But when the ceremony and celebrations were over, the father told the sons to sleep in the same rooms as their “wives”.   When they refused to do so their father beat them with a stick. The boys were persuaded to sleep in the same rooms as their wives but the marriages were not consummated. Commenting on the events in 2005, Justice Stephens said, “an array of techniques were employed some of which were criminal”.  The Judge said the parents’ approach to forced marriage had not changed and there were substantial risks that the same techniques would be employed to the girls in the future.

Not only a “gross” rights abuse

The judge also took into consideration the possible impact forced marriage could have on the girls’ future children. The father, who was first cousin of the mother, suffered from a “devastating hereditary disease”. The two older brothers were forced to marry their first cousins and the sisters could also be forced to marry their first cousins.The judge said forcing the girls to marry “would not only be a gross abuse of (their) rights”.  He said if the forced marriages were to their first cousins this “could have a devastating impact on the health of any of their children”.

The Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007 came into force on 25 November 2008.  It enables family courts to make Forced Marriage Protection Orders, designed to protect the victim in their particular circumstances.   For example, an order may prevent a forced marriage from occurring, or stop someone from being taken abroad.Those who fail to obey an order may be found in contempt of court and sent to prison for up to two years.