By Charis Hill
The two-week trial of Birmingham Mother came to an end on May 22. The court heard how the mother from Birmingham, who cannot be named in order to protect the identity of the victim, deceived her then 17 year old daughter into marrying a man almost twice her age. In the first successful prosecution of its kind in England, the 45 year old woman was found guilty on two counts of forced marriage and one count of perjury. The jury found her not guilty for an additional charge of perverting the course of justice.
The landmark decision has been praised as significant in the fight against forced marriage, after campaigners for women’s rights have fought relentlessly for 10 years to see change in the law. Despite the introduction of legislation outlawing forced marriage in 2014 only one successful prosecution has occurred before now, but in Wales. It is hoped that this recent conviction paves the way for more young women to speak out.
The teenager, who was dubbed ‘incredibly brave’ for speaking out against her mother, told the court how she was fooled into their trip to Pakistan, having been told by her mother, the defendant, they were going away for a family holiday and bribed with the promise of a new phone. On her 18th birthday the teenager, who is said thought to have learning difficulties, discovered the truth about their visit. It was then that her mother revealed her intentions to have her daughter wed a family relative.
The Court heard how, during an earlier visit to Pakistan in 2012 the teenager who was 13 at the time, had first met the man chosen to be her husband. On returning to the UK it was discovered the girl had become pregnant by the then 29 year old, and a termination was arranged. The teenager was put into the care, where was sexually exploitation and was raped. In 2015 the victim began seeing her mother regularly while living in supported accommodation. But it was during this time that the defendant began planning the wedding.
The victim later revealed how she cried and begged for help throughout the ceremony; she further detailed the surmountable pressure she was under from her mother to say ‘I do’ or ‘I accept’ three times. The defendant then abandoned her daughter in Pakistan, who was left housebound, without of money and without a phone during her stay.
The victim later managed to contact a friend through Facebook and explained what had happened. This was sheer act of bravery that could have led to a penultimate punishment, had something gone wrong; but instead resulted in the defendant being summoned to the High Court. She then perverted the course of justice by lying under oath and claiming her daughter had entered the marriage willingly and was happy in Pakistan.
On hearing the evidence the Jury of 9 men and 3 women found the mother of four guilty on two counts of forced marriage, and one count of perjury.
It is reported that despite being ‘elated’ by the decision, Jasvinder Sanghera, director at the charity for forced marriage victims Karma Nirvana, warned more needs to be done as thousands of children are still vulnerable. But optimistically added: “This case shows that when a victim is supported appropriately through the criminal justice system, a prosecution is possible.”
Nair Afzal, who famously prosecuted in the Rochdale scandal, and former Chief Prosecutor for the north west of England, is said to welcome both the conviction and the sentence passed. He told The Guardian: “This behaviour is so rampant that deterrence comes from both prosecution and sentencing. The message is don’t do it or pay the consequences if you do.”
Commenting on the first conviction of its kind in which a victim testified in court against their own family, Superintendent Sally Holmes, of West Midlands Police’s public protection unit, said the verdict could make a significant difference in future. “A case like this is so important to give people the confidence they need in coming forward, and to say that absolutely it’s the right thing to do to report the matter.”