University of Nottingham: Impact of Covid-19 on forced marriage in the UK is investigated by Nottingham researchers

A new study to assess the impact of Covid-19 on forced marriage in the UK is being conducted by the University of Nottingham’s Rights Lab, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council as part of UK Research and Innovation’s rapid response to Covid-19.

Charities, including the Ann Craft Trust and Karma Nirvana (KN), which provides a national forced marriage helpline, have warned about the significant impact of the pandemic on forced marriage in the UK.

Since the first UK lockdown, KN and the government’s Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) have seen a marked impact on people vulnerable to, or already experiencing, forced marriage. School closures and other elements of the ‘stay at home’ policy trapped people indoors with families who were attempting to coerce them into marriage, while at the same time help and support have been much harder to access.

Working with the FMU and KN, a Rights Lab team of forced marriage experts led by Dr Helen McCabe, are collating evidence on how the pandemic, and the decisions that have been made as a result, by government, schools, NHS trusts, police forces, local authorities, and service providers, have affected the dynamics of forced marriage.

The researchers will release regular snapshots of the economic and social impact of
Covid-19, and the decisions made related to it, on forced marriage. They will chart the changing risk environment, enabling them to develop recommendations and guidance for the UK governments and organisations on the frontline to improve their ongoing response.

Early in the pandemic, non-governmental organisations in Britain warned that local councils and other relevant bodies are under-prepared and that there would be a spike in cases as lockdown eased. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates an additional 13 million child; early; and forced marriages may take place over the next decade because of Covid-19 and Covid-related decision-making that could have been averted.

Although forced marriage in the UK affects people in many communities, data from the FMU shows that it disproportionately affects BAME women and girls. Early research on the pandemic has shown that BAME people are more likely to suffer serious health effects and even death from Covid-19. Service providers reported to KN a variety of effects this has had on their service-users, from closure of services to fear of even leaving the house due to risk of infection. All of this will have had a significant impact on people in forced marriages, and those at risk of them.

School closures, isolation from community networks and support services, lockdown, and ongoing economic pressures imposed by the pandemic increase risks of forced marriage; reduce access to support; and exacerbate abuse experienced by those already in forced marriage.
Dr Helen McCabe, Principal Investigator and Assistant Professor in Political Theory in the School of Politics and International Relations
Dr McCabe added: “On the other hand, some risks for forced marriage may have lessened during ‘stay at home’ – e.g. being taken abroad for forced marriage. Social distancing regulations may also have had an impact, such as the ban on meetings between households.

“We are investigating all avenues and working with a large network of stakeholders, including teachers, UK Border Force, police services, the FMU, social workers, health-care professionals and other NGOs, to ensure that we can provide holistic and effective guidance that can be implemented quickly.”

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