Girl Summit: UK urges action on forced marriage and FGM

A girl and a man in the street

Cameron says violence against women is top of his agenda, but what is being done to stop forced marriages in the UK?

LAST UPDATED AT 09:56 ON Tue 22 Jul 2014

The UK is hosting its first global Girl Summit aimed at ending forced marriages and female genital mutilation (FGM) within a generation.
The conference, which begins in London today, will be co-hosted by the British government and Unicef. It will be led by David Cameron and feature contributions from various heads of state, victims and charities, including the young activist Malala Yousafzai. Cameron has previously promised that tackling violence against women would be at the "top of Britain's aid agenda".

What does forced marriage involve? 

The term applies to victims who are forced into marriages or relationships against their will, a significant proportion of whom are young girls. They often experience physical, psychological, financial, sexual and emotional abuse at the hands of their 'partners'.

What are the current UK laws against the practice? 

The government describes the practice as "appalling and indefensible" and recognises it as "a form of violence against women and men, domestic/child abuse and a serious abuse of human rights."

The Forced Marriage Unit was set up by the Home Office and Foreign Office in 2005. The unit operates both inside the UK and internationally.

A new law was introduced by the government only last month in order to prosecute offenders and protect victims. Part 10 of the The Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, makes it a criminal offence, punishable by a seven-year prison sentence, to force someone to marry against his or her will.

The new law aims to send a "powerful message that this indefensible abuse of human rights will not be tolerated".

How prevalent is it in the UK and who is affected? 

Last year the Forced Marriage Unit dealt with 1,302 reported cases, the BBC reports. Campaigners argue that there could be thousands more due to under-reporting of the crime.

While the practice affects men and women across many different cultural groups, the majority of its victims are young, vulnerable girls.

What does the summit hope to achieve? 

The conference aims to secure "commitments from the private sector, faith leaders, civil society organisations and governments" Theresa May writes in Daily Telegraph. By challenging cultural attitudes and implementing new legislation, organisers say they will produce an international charter which will work to achieve an end both practices within a generation.

Forced marriage across the world: 

Every two seconds a young girl is forced into marriage, according to Too Young to Wed, a global campaign collecting data on forced marriages. The group also says that forced marriage will affect over 14 million girls globally every year, with one girl in nine marrying before the age of 15 and one in three before the age of 18.

One Ethiopian child bride told researchers she could not even remember being "given" to her husband because she was only an infant. "My husband brought me up", she said.

Will the summit achieve its goals? 

The BBC's health correspondent Jane Dreaper questions whether such widespread practices can be stopped within the short time frame. But, she says, even if the summit fails to achieve certain targets, "there is still a sense of momentum and progress" and awareness will be raised which could make a "significant difference to the lives of thousands of girls worldwide". 

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