News and Views
Muslim Girl, 14, In Forced Marriage: Judge ‘Powerless’ To Help
A judge has said he is powerless to help a 14-year-old Muslim girl who says she was taken to Pakistan by her father and forced to marry a man at gunpoint.
The girl said she had been subjected to violence and became pregnant following threats, Mr Justice Holman revealed. She now has a one-year-old child.
Expressing sympathy for the girl the judge condemned the "harrowing" circumstances of the case, but admitted there was nothing he could do to help her, the High Court heard.
Despite the young girl being under extreme duress and under at 16 at the time of the forced marriage, the judge said he was prevented by law from granting a declaration that her marriage was "at its inception, void."
Detail has emerged in a written ruling following a hearing in the Family Division of the High Court in Birmingham.
Mr Justice Holman said a local authority began care proceedings in relation to the girl and her baby.
Local authority officials wanted a "declaration of non-recognition" of the marriage, but Mr Justice Holman decided the girl would have to initiate proceedings to have the marriage nullified.
But Vanessa Meachin, the girl’s barrister, said it was unlikely that her client could cope with a nullification case.
“She is the victim of forced marriage and rape. She is 17 and struggling with the complexities of the two sets of legal proceedings that she is already involved in. It is unrealistic to consider that she is equipped to proceed with a petition for nullity,” she said.
But Mr Justice Holman said his hands were tied.
“I do understand and have sympathy with the point and position that it might be particularly defiant by the girl of her family for herself to initiate proceedings for a decree of nullity, although she now has little contact with most members of her family,” he said.
“The reality is that, sooner or later, she needs fully to resolve her legal status and to face up to the obviously necessary step of obtaining a decree of nullity. That, however, is a matter for her own decision, her own timing and her own choice.”
"The girl has given an account of the circumstances surrounding that marriage which are, frankly, harrowing," said the judge.
Mr Justice Holman said the girl's parents were Muslim and had emigrated from Pakistan to England. He said the girl's father became a UK citizen more than 30 years ago.