The last week of July 2008 has seen an important development in the Government’s commitment to stamping out forced marriages, with a five point plan to significantly strengthen the safeguards against them.
A major development came in the announcement that the age in which someone can apply for a marriage visa will increase from 18 to 21. This is a response to the finding that around 30 per cent of the cases handled by the Government’s Forced Marriage Unit involved victims between these ages.
Home Secretary Jacqui Smith explained, “Forced marriage leads to victims suffering years of physical and mental abuse and – in extreme cases – unlawful imprisonment and rape. It has no place in our society. That is why the Government is determined to do everything it can to stamp it out and ensure that victims receive the help and support they need.”
The five key points that have been announced will go a great way to providing this help and support, with the focus on the sponsors and the circumstances of the marriage visa application. It is understood that the intentions of the sponsor will be put under scrutiny before the application is granted, along with a clear confirmation that marriage is due to take place so that potential forced marriages are far less possible.
The points are as follows:
1) To raise the age of sponsorship for a UK marriage visa from 18 to 21
2) Foreign spouses will be asked to enter into an agreement to learn English before they come to the UK for settlement
3) The introduction of a new power to revoke the leave to remain where there is evidence that the marriage route has been abused
4) All sponsors are required to register their intention to marry overseas before they leave the UK
5) The introduction of a thorough code of practice to enable specialist teams to identify vulnerable people at risk of forced marriage
The five new steps, announced on 23rd July 2008, have been devised to make sure that “…anyone entering into a marriage does so of their own free will and demanding that those coming to the UK learn English” the Home Secretary said, so that the young person in question will be aware of any marriage that will take place overseas and who their prospective partner will be.
UK Border Agency staff have also been given new powers to help support these developments. They are to be given additional training to help them spot potential victims of forced marriages and any risk of abuse.
The importance of learning English has also been clearly stated, with the understanding that it helps those that stay in the UK to integrate fully into UK life. As Border and Immigration Minister Liam Byrne pointed out, “British citizens have the right to marry whoever they choose. But we want newcomers to succeed in our society and sign up to the standards we have in common.” He also confirmed that there would be ‘consequences for those who break the rules’, a reference to the potential cancelling of leave to remain.
These new developments are a clear illustration of the Government’s commitment to preventing forced marriages and providing support for its victims.