We have heard some details about what forced marriages are, and we recognise the differences between a forced, or coerced, marriage and an arranged marriage that is freely entered into by both parties.

Family law in Scotland already makes a marriage void if consent to it is given under duress, but making a marriage void after the fact is not sufficient protection for young men and women, nor is it a sufficient deterrent for those who may believe that they are preserving cultural or religious traditions.

As has been said, there is legislation for offences such as threatening behaviour, assault, kidnap, imprisonment and rape.

I believe that we need to follow the UK example of having specific legislation against forced marriages. There is a need to send out a message.

Under the UK act, there will be forced marriage protection orders—court orders that require individuals to hand over passports, stop intimidation and violence and reveal the whereabouts of a person, and to stop someone being taken abroad.

Failure to comply with an order could lead to imprisonment.

Experience shows that there are five situations when dealing with cases of forced marriage: a young person who fears they may be forced to marry in the UK or overseas; a report by a third party of a young person being taken abroad for the purpose of a forced marriage; a young person who has already been forced to marry; a young person being repatriated to the UK from overseas; and a spouse who has come to the UK from overseas.

We must take each of those into consideration and ensure that resources are available to protect and support those involved.

I am the Equal Opportunities Committee's race reporter and I have a special interest in all subjects that touch on the peoples and customs of all races who live here in Scotland and beyond.

Our aim in Scotland is to give everyone a fair chance in life regardless of their circumstances, gender, race, sexuality, age, disability, religion or belief.

However, multicultural sensitivity is not an excuse for moral blindness.

I know that we are working to counter such problems, but we must acknowledge that in communities throughout Scotland there are massive problems of prejudice, including serious violence against women—forced marriage can be seen to lie at the extreme end of that spectrum of violence.

I appreciate the minister's acknowledgement of those problems.

I also appreciate—I hope that it is recognised throughout the chamber—that forced marriage is used to control the sexuality of young girls and young boys; the situation of young gay and bisexual men cannot be ignored when we consider the issue.

I am following with interest the Justice Committee's deliberations on the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Bill. It is scrutinising the details of the proposed new definition of rape, which is that sexual intercourse without consent or free agreement is rape.

It is also considering the situations in which there can be no free agreement to sexual intercourse.

In that context, it seems irrefutable that the consummation of a forced marriage is rape, so it should be included in the bill. I would be interested to hear the minister's response to that point.

Forced marriage is an abuse of human rights, as reflected in the United Nations declarations—I welcome the recognition of that throughout the chamber.

I would like to draw a parallel with the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation (Scotland) Act 2005, which the Equal Opportunities Committee scrutinised when the bill passed through Parliament during the previous session.

That act makes it illegal to assist or arrange FGM, even if the crime of FGM takes place abroad.

That is relevant to our consideration of how to deter forced marriages.

If the 2005 act deters only one case of mutilation, it is worth the effort.

Similarly, if new legislation on forced marriage stops one young person—a girl or a boy—from being coerced or forced into marriage, we are obliged to legislate.

I remind members that when it comes to such sensitive matters we should always be wary of taking evidence only from what we tend to call the usual suspects—who are often the gatekeepers of groups of unrepresented people.

To balance that bias, Elaine Smith, as the Equal Opportunities Committee's gender reporter, took evidence on FGM in private from groups who would not be expected to respond to open public consultations.

I commend that approach.

I welcome the reconvening of the forced marriage network meetings and look forward to the results of the consultation that has been launched today—and to the proposed confidential telephone surgery, which is a good idea.

I emphasise that the fact that there are few reported incidents does not mean that forced marriages do not happen—the figures that are quoted must be regarded as the tip of the iceberg.

We need guidelines and training for social workers and other public sector workers so that they can be more aware of the risk factors and spot the early warning signs of young people who may be in danger of being forced to marry.

Challenging forced marriage is everyone's responsibility.

I look forward to the minister outlining the Government's commitments on the issue and explaining how the UK practice guidelines will be replicated for Scotland.

 

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