Judgment points to legal lacuna on forced marriages

Girl was in State care for a time amid concerns she had been forced by her Muslim parents to marry a man she hardly knew


“One is left with a sense of real sympathy for a vulnerable, very young woman, who was placed in a series of impossible situations, and who simply did not receive the parental support she was entitled to expect.” So concluded Mr Justice John Mac Menamin in his judgment yesterday in the case of “R”, a 16-year-old girl who was in State care for a time amid concerns that she had been forced by her conservative Muslim parents to marry a 29-year-old man she hardly knew.

No consent
In suggesting that new laws and procedures may be required to protect young people from forced marriage, the judge has identified a lacuna that has long preoccupied groups working in children’s rights.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Social Protection said it was not aware of any other suspected cases of forced marriages, but a small number of reports have surfaced in recent years of marriages where the authorities suspect there may not have been consent. In 2007, the then deputy head of the Garda National Immigration Bureau, Det Supt John O’Driscoll, said gardaí were investigating a number of cases of forced marriage involving migrant children as young as 12. He said the girls were typically trafficked into the country and coerced into marrying older men. The Children’s Rights Alliance says it is aware of at least two cases of suspected forced marriages involving minors.

Progress in Europe
Other European countries have made more progress in getting a handle on the problem. Nearly 1,500 people, mostly Indian and Pakistani, who were facing marriage under duress sought help in 2011 from Britain’s Forced Marriage Unit, an agency run jointly by the foreign office and the home office. Under UK law, courts can issue forced marriage protection orders. The Scottish government has made the breaching of such an order an automatic criminal offence, punishable by a two-year jail term.

In Germany, since 2011, those who force women and girls into marriage can be punished by five years’ jail.

In the North in 2010, a High Court judge in Belfast imposed protection orders regarding two girls, aged 12 and 14, he held to be at risk.

Asked if there were plans to legislate on forced marriage, the Department of Justice said it was a matter for the Department of Social Protection which said it was a matter for the Department of Justice or the HSE. The HSE referred queries to the Department of Health, where a spokesman said forced marriage was not a matter for that department.