The devision of the British government that deals with incidents of forced marriages, the Forced Marriage Unit (FMU), issued statistics last week suggesting that, over the last year, there has been a 65 percent increase in men reporting that they have been forced into marriage, with a significant number of those cases involving gay or bisexual men.
The FMU defines forced marriage as being a marriage in which one or both parties are made to marry under duress. Such instances may include physical, psychological, sexual or emotional abuse as well as financial pressure. The FMU is also keen to emphasize that forced marriages should not be confused with arranged marriages.
Although the vast majority of the 1682 cases of forced marriages the unit dealt with in 2009 involved women, 200 involved male victims, up on 2008′s figure of 134. Between January and May of this year the FMU has dealt with over 80 incidents. This increase has concerned the FMU as they believe it may be only a first glance at a problem that, they fear, could be deceptively underreported.
From the AFP:
The Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) says it received more than 220 emails and calls to its helpline last year about suspected forced marriages involving male victims — up 65 percent from 134 in 2008.
And the figures may be just the tip of the iceberg, experts believe, with many more cases unreported.
Because the problem is more common among women, the plight of men forced into marriage often goes unheard, ministers said.
Jeremy Browne, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) minister for consular policy, said: “Although this continues to be an issue affecting both men and women, people often don’t realise that men can be victims of forced marriage too.
“Fourteen percent of the cases handled by the Forced Marriage Unit last year involved men and it’s a problem we are determined to raise awareness about and help communities to address.”
The FMU has found that men with family ties to Pakistan, India and Bangladesh appear more likely to be victims of forced marriages, however incidents involving families with ties to East Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa have also been reported.
Victims are usually between the ages of 15 to 24 with the summer months a time of high risk. At this time of year victims may be taken out of the country against their will or prevented from returning home after a planned family vacation, and as such, their absence may not at first be apparent or seem unusual.
There are many reasons behind forced marriages (regardless of gender), from motivations surrounding securing visas to families going to extreme lengths to, as they perceive it, protect the family name or reputation. Sexuality must now also be recognized as a factor it seems, with victims being forced into marriage if their parents or close relatives suspect that they might be gay.
While forced marriages involving women have been widely recognized as an issue that needs our attention, the concept of men being victims of forced marriages is often greeted with a degree of skepticism. This can mean that men must first overcome this stigma in order to find help.
“Professionals and communities can be very intolerant towards men being forced into marriage, even if they have learnt to be sympathetic to women in the same situation,” said the spokesman for the FMU. “It can be hard to persuade people to believe it even happens.”
“But the threats to these young men are very real. We received a call recently from a young man taken to Pakistan. He didn’t know he was going to be married, and when he refused, he was locked in a room. Every day, his father came in to beat him – we’re talking broken legs and sexual abuse.”
“Boys and men who are forced into marriage find it harder to ask for help than women, but we are urging males affected by forced marriage to speak out and seek the help that is available to them,” added Foreign Office Minister Jeremy Browne. The government is also encouraging those who work with young people to be vigilant when working with those considered at risk.
Since 2008, Britain has provided potential victims of forced marriages, or those acting on their behalf, with the power to apply for a Forced Marriage Protection Order. Each Forced Marriage Protection Order contains specific terms that are designed to protect the victim in their individual circumstance, but the following are a few examples of what an order might be used for:
The increase in reported incidents does have one encouraging element to it in that it may indicate that more men are becoming aware of the change in the law and are getting help if they face the threat of a forced marriage. Former Keighley MP Ann Cryer, who campaigned for a change in the law to allow for Forced Marriage Protection Orders, highlighted this when she spoke to the Telegraph and Argus late last week:
“When I urged for these measures to come into force, the worry was that nobody would use the new law because they would be terrified about the problems they would get into with their families.
“The fact that they have demonstrates that young people, particularly in Muslim communities are becoming much more brave and outspoken and living their lives the way they want to live them, rather than in the way their family wants them to.”
As with all cases of forced marriage though, this problem is one that is often hard to detect and therein hard to remedy as it involves deeper issues surrounding family and cultural expectations, and as such many instances of forced marriage may still go unreported.
The key point that the FMU has tried to stress is that it is imperative that victims – male or female – do summon up the courage to report this behavior so that it can be tackled and that victims do not feel that they have to suffer in silence with no way out.
Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may
not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.