Social workers failing women facing forced marriage, says report
Vulnerable women and girls at risk of being forced into marriage are being failed by social services who are not using powers to protect them, according to a government review seen by the Guardian.
Social services have been singled out for criticism in a government review for failing to use powers introduced to protect vulnerable young women from forced marriage. The forced marriage protection orders have been used across the country, primarily for girls and young women, whose relatives have threatened to take them abroad to be married against their will or force them to marry in the UK.
A review by the Ministry of Justice found that some victims were as young as nine, others 35 and above. The problem is thought to be under-reported and the review expresses the need to reach into closed communities to get the message to women and girls that they are protected.
It singles out the social services for not fully making use of the orders, which have been welcomed by charities working with victims of “honour” crime and forced marriage. The Ministry of Justice spoke to police officers, charities, judges and social work departments in a detailed review of how the orders are working.
The review said: “In the view of the police, social services were not quick to act as they tend to ‘lack understanding of the seriousness of the situation’.” There were references to calls not always being returned, or cases being regarded as involving ‘naughty children’.”
In England and Wales 86 forced marriage protection orders were issued in their first year. The civil orders are designed to protect women and girls, and in some cases young men, from being pushed into marriage against their will. The severity of the orders depends on each case, with some children being moved from their homes in order to protect them. Thirty-nine of those who applied for the protection provided by the orders were under 18.
One of the conclusions of the review said: “Some local authorities have been slow to get involved … the act does not sit well with social services working methods.”
The review went on: “Social services … were not perceived as having understood the full potential of the orders at an early stage and how they should relate to their child protection procedures as an additional measure for protection.”
Police officers who have dealt with cases of young girls threatened with forced marriage told the review that other agencies, including social services, did not seem to be aware that in many cases the need for action was extremely urgent.
“They [police officers] described dealing with kidnapping, installing fireproof letter boxes, taking DNA samples, using code words and taking these measures for long periods,” said the document.
“They kept in touch with some victims over a period of years. But they were also aware of the immense pressure on victims from family members to back down or seek variation of an order.”
Last year the government’s forced marriage unit dealt with more than 1,600 reports of possible forced marriage, 420 of which became cases of girls and women being married forcibly in the UK or taken abroad.
The new law means family courts can make orders to prevent the marriages taking place. Where a forced marriage has taken place the courts can make orders to protect the victim and help remove them from the situation.
The sanctions include the handing over of all passports and birth certificates, an order to reveal the whereabouts of the victim and an order to stop someone from being taken abroad.
So far there is only one known case of an order being breached. In the case in Lancashire, the father, Aurang Zeb, had tried to set up a marriage between his daughter, Rozina, and his brother’s son while visiting their native Pakistan when she was 19.
He was ordered to forfeit his passport and barred from taking Rozina, now 23, to Pakistan.
But though he moved out of the family home after the order was imposed, he continued stalking his family, Blackburn magistrates were told.
Zeb was convicted last month of breaching the order, fined and sentenced to 200 hours of community service. The maximum penalty is two years in prison.
Magistrates also imposed a restraining order barring him from contacting his family indefinitely.
The British Association of Social Workers said better support, training and supervision were needed to make sure the best use was made of the legislation.