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Wed-Locked

Duration:
27 minutes
First broadcast:
Wednesday 01 August 2012

Today on Face the Facts we reveal how scores of people with learning disabilities are ending up in illegal forced marriages.

It ranges from immigration scams, right through to well meaning relatives who hand pick a sometimes unwitting spouse, as a carer for the disabled person.

It predominantly, but not exclusively, involves South Asian families. It has also happens in some East European , African, Mediterranean and traveller families.

The key issue is to do with consent. If someone does not have mental capacity they can't consent to marriage, and no one else can consent on their behalf.

However, many families do not know about the Mental Capacity Act, and presume they are simply 'arranging' a marriage, which they have done for generations, and which is perfectly legal.

John Waite speaks to families of people with learning disabilities who have ended up in a forced marriage. We hear from a mother who is planning her disabled son's wedding for the end of the year.

We report about a couple who say their marriage is happy, even though experts agree the husband does not appear to have capacity to consent, and the wife is acting as his carer.

Plus we hear from a woman who was unwittingly married to a man who turned out to have learning disabilities and who has described how they are both victims.

The Government's recent announcement to criminalise Forced Marriage in general has been welcomed by some campaign groups, but opposed by others who say it will only push the practice underground.

For those working with people with learning disabilities, they view the reported cases of forced marriage involving people with learning disabilities as only the 'tip of the iceberg'.

Join John Waite for Face The Facts, Wednesday August 1st at 12.30pm.

Producer;Carolyn Atkinson.

  • Transcript

    THIS TRANSCRIPT WAS TYPED FROM A RECORDING AND NOT COPIED FROM AN ORIGINAL SCRIPT. BECAUSE OF THE RISK OF MISHEARING AND THE DIFFICULTY IN SOME CASES OF IDENTIFYING INDIVIDUAL SPEAKERS THE BBC CANNOT VOUCH FOR ITS COMPLETE ACCURACY.

    Waite
    Most people would agree that forcing a son or daughter to get married to someone they haven't chosen is wrong.

    Montage clips
    Cameron
    It's an absolutely abhorrent practice, it is frankly little short of slavery.

    May
    It is indefensible and never acceptable.

    Brown
    We must do everything we can to support those who are victims of these forced marriages.

    Waite
    But today on Face the Facts we reveal how increasing numbers of people with learning disabilities are ending up in forced marriages. While some are blatant immigration rackets, as we'll be reporting, others involve well-meaning parents who are nevertheless equally breaking the law. There's growing concern about such marriages and a dedicated Home and Foreign Office Forced Marriage Unit - set up in 2005 - has been stepping up its work protecting people with learning disabilities.

    Montage clips
    There's a case which involves a gentleman who was 26 years old but had the skills of an average three year old and he became involved in a marriage over the telephone with a woman from Bangladesh.

    One of our service users entered two marriages, she doesn't, to this day, understand why one by one her children have been taken away and why both husbands have abandoned her.

    There was this young woman who got married three times - three times she was taken to Pakistan and three times a partner got to this country and that was all financial gain.

    It's now a bit of a ticking time bomb because we've actually got an awful lot of people with learning disabilities who are very vulnerable to these marriages.

    Waite
    At the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London government minister Alastair Burt launches a specially targeted campaign about forced marriage in general targeted both in its timing, the summer holidays, and its audience - of teenagers and young adults.

    Burt
    At this point in the year most young people's thoughts are turning towards the glorious stretch of summer freedom on the horizon, the chance to do something different - spend time with friends and family, maybe go on holiday. But for some young people it's a very different picture - their summer holiday represents the start of a life they have not chosen. Since the beginning of this year alone the government forced marriage unit has dealt with over 750 cases. In many cases the victim will be enduring huge emotional pressure at the hands of the people they trust most.

    Waite
    And of those 750 cases of forced marriage, around five per cent will have involved people with learning disabilities - individuals who may not have the mental capability to understand such a life-changing decision. Even officially, according to the Forced Marriage Unit, the number of marriages involving people with learning disability is on the increase - in the last month alone the FMU has dealt with six new cases. But according to Mark Goldring, Chief Executive of charity Mencap, the true figures are still vastly underestimated.

    Goldring
    We know that there are many more where somebody is at real risk and because the marriage often takes place outside this country it's not until it's done that many of the wider community will actually get to know about it and public awareness and the officials' awareness is massively under-reported.

    Waite
    Mr Goldring is not talking about arranged marriages, which are common in many communities in Britain; they're totally legal and can be very successful. But both bride and groom have agreed to the arrangement and understand what it means. And that can include people with mild or moderate learning disabilities.

    Goldring
    Many people with a learning disability have happy fulfilled relationships, just like the rest of the public, and we should never ever threaten that because we question ‘do they know what they're doing?’ They know full well what they're doing and good luck to them. There are others who cannot make a meaningful decision and of course, therefore, the concern comes if they are in a relationship, is it actually a mutual relationship or is it something that has been imposed on them, do they know what they're doing and do they know what the consequences of it might be? And those are the people where protection is needed.

    Waite
    And they could include disabled people with severe brain damage, autism or Downs Syndrome. In some communities, there's a pressure to marry off such individuals because disability is perceived as a stigma which will blight the family, and their siblings' chances of being seen as eligible. Indeed, sometimes there's a view that marriage will cure the disability.

    Then there's no doubt that some people with learning disabilities are blatantly used as marriage fodder by those who just want to get a visa to come to Britain. Cases which can have horrendous repercussions quite apart from being illegal according to Mandy Sanghera. She's been working with the South Asian community in the Midlands for almost 20 years and advises the Forced Marriage Unit about learning disabilities.

    Sanghera
    In the case of somebody that I supported her family were approached about a young man who had come to the UK, whose visa expired, and wanted a spouse and wanted to remain in the UK. So the family thought at the time that this person with the learning disability if she was to marry this guy that needed a visa it was a win/win situation. Her mum was kind of talked into it but what actually it turned out to be that she suffered abuse and crime on daily basis, she was raped and she was financially abused, he was bringing different women back into the home and when she got pregnant she was beaten up until she actually lost the child. And it was only then that her family thought enough's enough.

    Waite
    I've come to South Manchester to Himmat, it means self-help, a centre that's been running for 17 years now providing support for people with learning disabilities and their families. Most of those who come through these doors are from Pakistani, Indian or Bangladeshi backgrounds but Himmat has African and Middle Eastern clients too. Kay Ahmed is the centre's manager.

    Ahmed
    There was this young woman who got married three times - three times she was taken to Pakistan. She got married, she brought her partner over, two years down the line same girl got married again, then again, and three times a partner got to this country. They were charging people X amount of money to get them to come to this country and that was all financial gain.

    Waite
    Four years ago, the then Director of UK Visas reported that of 250 suspicious visa applications dealt with by the consul in Pakistan, around a third involved adults with severe disabilities.
    In fact around two thirds of the cases dealt with by the Forced Marriage Unit involve people from Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Indian communities.
    And new immigration rules have just been introduced that, for example, mean spouses being sponsored to come into the UK by British citizens will now have to wait five years instead of two, before being allowed to stay permanently.
    Immigration rackets and social stigma apart, however, by far the biggest spur to a parent trying to see a child with severe learning disability married off is far more benevolent as the latest research makes clear.

    Actuality - National Steering Group
    Clawson
    Hello welcome everybody to the University of Nottingham, thank you everybody for coming, it's great to see people here from the Forced Marriage Unit and representation from the police, from social services...

    I've come to the first meeting of a new national steering group on forced marriages involving people with learning disabilities.

    Actuality - National Steering Group
    Clawson
    I'm Rachael Clawson, I'm a lecturer here in the Centre for Social Work...

    Here in Nottingham a new study, due to be published later this year, has been carried out for the Forced Marriage Unit by lecturer Rachael Clawson, co- author of the government's guidelines on forced marriage and learning disabilities.

    Clawson
    By far the most common motivator was trying to obtain a carer for the person with the learning disability. So as parents are ageing what they're concerned about is that their child has the right type of financial and caring support that they will need as they go through their lives.

    Waite
    This is a really fraught area, from criminality on the one hand to total caring on the other but in the middle all sorts of cultural taboos and shibboleth.

    Clawson
    Yes it's extremely complex.

    Waite
    And, according to Rachael Clawson, even with the best of intentions, some marriages involving people with learning disabilities and their spouse-carers can and do go horribly wrong.

    Clawson
    People experience physical abuse, sexual assaults, we've heard of cases of people being abandoned, we've heard of cases where the spouse without the learning disability, also becomes a victim in that they didn't know that they were going to marry somebody with a learning disability and then they then become treated almost as a servant.

    Waite
    So there can be two victims?

    Clawson
    There can be two victims in this as well.

    Waite
    But I met a couple for whom things happily have gone right.

    Akhtar
    I'm Akhtar, I'm 36, this is my husband, he's Raja.

    Waite
    How are you?

    Raja
    Alright.

    Waite
    What are you up to today?

    Raja
    Nothing much.

    Waite
    What's your favourite thing?

    Raja
    Football.

    Waite
    Ah, who do you follow?

    Raja
    England.

    Waite
    Who's your local team?

    Raja
    Manchester United.

    Waite
    Manchester United - just down the road.

    Raja
    Yeah.

    Waite
    Raja and Akhtar - not their real names - live in Greater Manchester with members of Raja's extended family. He has a severe learning disability and needs 24 hour assistance. Akhtar came from Bangladesh to live as his wife and provide that as his full time carer. And they've been, she told me - her words spoken by an interpreter - happily married for 13 years.
    Raja's wife
    I take care of him, I'm responsible for his day to day living, which is fine. He can't see properly, he's got learning disability, his mobility is quite poor as well.

    Waite
    So tell me how long have you been married?

    Raja
    Oh - er …………..13 years.

    Waite
    Thirteen years - what's it been like?

    Raja
    Good. Fine.

    Waite
    What's the best thing about being married?

    Raja
    Look after me.

    Waite
    Look after you?

    Raja
    Yeah.

    Waite
    What does your wife do for you?

    Raja
    Buying clothes.

    Waite
    She's buying clothes for you?

    Raja
    Yeah.

    Waite
    What else?

    Raja
    Buying - make food for me.

    Raja's wife
    He likes going and visiting people. He likes walk, he likes swimming and he like to be a visitor at somebody's house - that's what he enjoys.

    Waite
    You see, just talking to your husband there, do you really think he understood what was involved when he got married to you?

    Raja's wife
    Well he knew he wanted to marry me but most of the responsibility were on his mum and dad.

    Waite
    As we've heard, this practice of mum and dad arranging a marriage to ensure a child is looked after in later life is most common in the UK's south Asian communities - but it also happens in some east European, Mediterranean and Traveller communities. And it's becoming more prevalent - possibly because, for the first time, people with learning disabilities are outliving their parents. Community advocate Mandy Sanghera reckons she's dealt with more than 200 such marriages.

    Sanghera
    Families, out of desperation have tried every avenue and they then think ‘okay we're no longer able to care because we're getting older, our health is deteriorating and actually the person that we care for now needs to have a wife or a husband and they can take over that caring responsibility.’

    Amna
    I've got a 33 year old son who's learning disabled, who's going to get married, and he's engaged in Pakistan.

    Waite
    Amna is 53, a mother of five and in declining health. She sees marrying off her learning disabled son as her best option and that she is planning to do- going abroad to liaise with the bride-to-be. She asked us to protect her identity so this is the interpreter's translations of her responses.

    Amna
    We've actually recently been back, we took our son as well who spoke to the girl as well. So they've seen him and everything but we've not told anybody here that he's engaged.

    Waite
    And tell me about the woman that he's marrying.

    Amna
    The woman he's going to get married to, she's about 20 years old, she's not learning disabled and she's not a relative of mine. We've actually told the family that my son is learning disabled and they have accepted it. I'm actually getting old and I'm finding it difficult to care for my son because I care for him 24 hours and I'm finding it difficult, maybe when my daughter-in-law will come she'll look after my son because he wants everything on time - his food and everything and his clothes and that - so it'll give me a relief because I'll know she's there to support him and help him.

    Waite
    So is this part of it - allowing your son to get married because you want him to have a carer that you can't go on forever being?

    Amna
    Because I might not be here forever and I want someone who can look after him, that's what my son wants - an active life - I can't give him that.

    Waite
    But his new bride will, that's the idea?

    Amna
    Yeah.

    Waite
    Whatever we may think of that idea, Amna's desire to protect her son and secure his future is part of a huge change in attitude on the part of society in general towards the needs - and the rights - of people with learning disabilities. Professor Bob Gates is an expert on learning disability at the University of Hertfordshire and co-editor of the Journal of Intellectual Disabilities.

    Gates
    Towards the end of the 1800s and the early 1900s we were segregating people with learning disabilities into what were then new large asylums. So to put them away from the rest of society was seen as essential but more importantly was this notion of eugenics, if we could, as a society, prevent them from breeding then what one would end up with is a gene pool that would give us superior races. So that many of these institutions would actually keep the two sexes segregated. So the notion of people with learning disabilities even having a relationship would not have been countenanced, let alone forming that relationship into something like a marriage.

    Waite
    But can someone with a severe learning disability ever be legally married? Can they ever truly consent? Do they know what marriage is and what it entails? Do they have the "capacity" as the law terms it, and as Toby Williamson of the Mental Health Foundation explains.

    Williamson
    Well capacity refers to something called mental capacity and mental capacity means the ability to make decisions. For people with learning disabilities the ability to make decisions might be quite difficult.

    Waite
    Most of us, Mr Williamson says, know about Enduring - or more recently - Lasting Powers of Attorney, when someone authorises another person to make decisions on their behalf should they lack capacity - that's things like finances, end of life care or where they live. As there's always the possibility that vulnerable people can be taken advantage of in that way, this is governed by the Mental Capacity Act of 2005.



    Williamson
    The Mental Capacity Act covers virtually any decision but particularly for decisions on health on social care, because the kind of people who may lack capacity to make those decisions, for example people with learning disabilities or people with dementia, are likely to have a lot of contacts with health and social care services. The first three principles are - you should always assume that someone can make a decision, i.e. has capacity; you should help them to make a decision, so provide information about a marriage for example in ways that they can understand; and also the third principle of the act says people can make unwise decisions and that doesn't necessarily mean that they lack capacity.

    Waite
    Under the act someone else can give consent providing it's in the person's best interest - having a medical operation for example or selling a house. But the act is quite clear that there are a number of things that a third party cannot decide on behalf of someone else - including, deciding to have sex and…

    Williamson
    With marriage there is particular rules around mental capacity and the act makes it quite clear that if someone lacks capacity to consent to marriage no one else can make a decision on their behalf to consent to that marriage on their behalf because of the nature of marriage - it's a very personal issue - other laws govern marriage so the act - that's what's called an excluded decision under the act, that no one can make that decision on someone else's behalf.

    Waite
    And if they do?

    Williamson
    Well that would certainly be breaking the law, yes, it would be unacceptable.

    Waite
    So, even with the best motives, to arrange a wedding for someone who does not have what the law would regard as the capacity to consent to it is in practice a "forced marriage". And as the Mental Capacity Act stipulates that no-one can give proxy consent to marry on behalf of someone with a severe learning disability, families who do take that course are - in the eyes of the law - breaking the law. Not least because without capacity someone cannot consent to sex - so consummating the marriage constitutes rape or indecent assault.
    Teertha Gupta QC is a barrister who specialises in family law and forced marriage.

    Gupta
    There's a case which involves a gentleman who was 26 years old but had the skills of an average three year old and he became involved in a marriage over the telephone with a woman from Bangladesh. I think the individual concerned couldn't tell the difference between anatomically correct dolls. So in that situation can that person really understand what marriage is? So, for example, if somebody is organising for their child, who's an adult, to get married and they know that their son or daughter can't understand what marriage means, can't consent to the marriage contract, then they are really forcing them into marriage, but also there is potential sexual offences that are being committed - aiding and abetting sexual relations for an individual who cannot consent to sexual relations, the same way they cannot consent to marriage.

    Waite
    Mr Gupta fears that there may be what he calls a "lost generation" of people with learning disabilities who are falling "under the radar" he says. But the dilemma here - for people, and there are many - like Amna, parents who want to do their best by their children - is that they could end up breaking the law. Ageing and in poor health, Amna, you'll recall, is currently planning for her 33 year old son to get a 20 year old wife-cum-carer in December. She speaks through an interpreter.

    Waite
    Have you heard of the Mental Capacity Act?

    Amna
    No I don't know about it.

    Waite
    Does he understand the realities of being married?

    Amna
    He actually doesn't know what commitments are, the only thing he just wants to get married and have somebody in his life but we can't actually stop him. But I know some disasters might come but it's really hard to actually tell my son.

    Waite
    So you're going to go ahead with this?

    Amna
    Well I will go ahead with the wedding and I think he's much better than other people, a lot of people have got married that are his ability and there's nothing much wrong with my son.

    Waite
    But it would be against the law, because, you've said yourself, you don't think he understands what he's doing, you've told me that.

    Amna
    I think they will actually stay happy. I've explained it to my daughter-in-law about my son's situation and everything, but I think my son will keep her happy and they will stay happy together.

    Waite
    And then there's Akhtar - happy together for 13 years with husband Raja, who has learning disabilities.

    Waite
    Now I imagine you understand that your marriage was arranged but in the eyes of the law in this country now it would be a forced marriage - did you realise that?

    Akhtar
    It wasn't forced. I agreed. If people want to get married then they should be given the right to get married.

    Waite
    That's not how the law sees it however, mindful of how many cases can end up involving financial, sexual and physical abuse.

    So why do so few cases come to court? Well experts say it's not that easy because unlike in criminal cases, civil law relies on the victims themselves, those with sometimes severe learning disabilities, to come forward and speak up. Advocates, like social workers, can get involved and what's called a Forced Marriage Protection order can be issued and if rape or abduction are suspected there are other laws.

    Those civil laws are here to stay, but the government's decision to criminalise forced marriage means a new law is expected next autumn.

    Critics say it'll drive the whole issue underground, but those in favour think it's long overdue, like campaigner Guljabeen Rahman from the Hopscotch Asian women's project in London. Although she worries about how it'll apply to people with learning disabilities.

    Rahman
    Initially I think I was one of the few people who was strongly in favour of criminalisation of forced marriage, simply because I saw cases where parents were fully aware of what they were doing and the fact that it was wrong and I felt that criminalisation is the only way to stop this from happening. However, I do think that there are special circumstances. Recently I've been reflecting more on some of our cases of forced marriage involving people with learning disabilities and I'm beginning to wonder whether criminalisation is actually appropriate for parents who may not fully understand the law, feel that they're acting in the best interests of their children and have always made decisions for the children who have learning disabilities. So it's - I think it's a very fine line there.

    Waite
    But many say such parents needn't be dragged into this debate over criminalisation. Parents wouldn't need to find a spouse carer for their child if there was sufficient support from social services - something strongly rejected by the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services. And when Face the Facts contacted local authorities across the country we discovered that dozens are already introducing new, specialist guidance. Hugh Constant is from the Social Care Institute for Excellence.

    Constant
    We now have pan London policies and procedures that all 33 London local authorities have signed up to and those explicitly look at the issue of forced marriages for people that lack the capacity to consent to marriage. And we have recently released pan West Midlands policies and procedure which cover a further 12 local authorities and we're in negotiation with five local authorities in the West Yorkshire region to do the same. So that's 50 local authorities, a third of the local authorities in England, that are now signed up to policies and procedures which explicitly raise the issue of forced marriage for people with learning disabilities.

    Waite
    In a statement from the Home Office we were told:

    Statement
    It is the right of every individual to make their own choices about their relationships and their future - forced marriage will not be tolerated.

    It goes on:

    But we know that legislation alone is not enough so through the activities of its Forced Marriage Unit the government continues to work to ensure all learning disability victims of forced marriage are safeguarded at every opportunity.

    And that presumably includes "Janine" we'll call her, a 23 year old woman, with a mother who wants, and has found, a man for her to marry who will look after her as well as love her. She and Janine were recently due to meet up with the prospective husband on a holiday but, just before they were due to fly out, social services staff and police arrived, and warned no marriage must take place. Janine's mother told me they made her feel like a criminal while Janine goes on hoping that her marriage plans aren't over.

    Janine
    He's nice looking and I really like him.

    Waite
    And have you spent much time with him?

    Janine
    Yeah once this year.

    Waite
    What did you do?

    Janine
    Just went out, we went to the tea garden.

    Waite
    Did you have a good time?

    Janine
    Yes.

    Waite
    Did you talk about possibly getting married - the two of you?


    Janine
    No, we didn't talk about it.

    Waite
    You didn't. Would you like to get married to him?

    Janine
    Yeah I do.

    Waite
    Why?

    Janine
    Because I know him and he's got responsibilities.

    Waite
    Do you think your daughter here has the capacity to get married?

    Janine's Mother
    I'm just worried about her future. I want somebody who will love her, comfort her, give her support, that is I just want for my daughter. I'm against the forced marriages to anybody, if I know someone who do, I advise them not to do it, forced marriage is not good. So this is not a forced marriage. I'm the main carer and her mother and I love her more than anything.

    Janine
    So can we two get married in December?

    Waite
    Why December?

    Janine
    Because I'm going to be 24 years old.

    Waite
    Well that's not very old.

    Janine
    I still want to get married when I'm 24 in December.

    Waite
    Do you know what marriage involves?

    Janine
    No.

    Waite
    What do you think marriage is?

    Janine
    It's husband and wife.

    Waite
    Do you hope one day you still will get married to this man?

    Janine
    Yes because that's when I grow up……..

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