Court paves way for annulment of ‘forced marriage’

Posted: 19th August 2012

A High Court judge has opened the way for the annulment of a disabled Muslim woman's ‘forced marriage’ despite her parents' plea that this will bring shame on her and her family.

In an extraordinary clash of cultures, the parents arranged for their daughter to marry a man in Bangladesh although she can barely speak and can do almost nothing for herself.

Her husband, a cousin, obtained a spousal visa and came to Britain where he shared the woman's bed for months until social workers got wind of what was happening.

Police obtained a forced marriage protection order and the husband was warned that any sexual relations with the woman were likely to amount to a criminal offence. He was eventually banned by a judge from the family home and from having any form of contact with her.

The woman's parents, who are British citizens but speak very little English, begged Mrs Justice Parker not to annul the marriage, saying that, in their traditional culture, disabled children are often found spouses so that they can be provided for.

However, the judge ruled that, under English law, the woman - referred to in court only as DD - simply has no legal capacity ‘at the most basic level’ either to marry or have sexual relations of any kind.

Despite recognising the parents' genuine love for their daughter, the judge ruled: ‘In my view a marriage with an incapacitated person who is unable to consent is a forced marriage within the meaning of the Forced Marriage Act 2007’.

The traditional Bengali family comes from a close-knit community that is ‘very largely insulated’ from mainstream English society. The parents are mistrustful of non-Bengalis and ‘bewildered and disconcerted’ that they might be seen as having done anything wrong, said the judge.

They saw arranging DD's marriage as part of their parental duty to ensure that she is cared for after they are no longer capable of looking after her themselves and argued that the annulment of the marriage would expose the whole family to ‘considerable stigma’.

The judge said that she had no doubt that the parents are ‘devoted’ to DD, but nevertheless ruled that her marriage was ‘a nullity’ in England and Wales. She concluded that it was in DD's best interests for a nullity application to be issued and appointed the Official Solicitor to represent her for that purpose.