Campaigners say case of Sikh man ‘married off’ to Indian woman despite not having capacity to consent highlights ‘horrendous’ issue
The government dealt with 114 cases of forced marriage last year that involved mentally disabled people – a number government experts admit is only the tip of the iceberg of a horrendous hidden problem. The Foreign Office, which runs the government’s forced marriage unit with the Ministry of Justice, released the figure after a high court judge was criticised by campaigners for refusing to annul the marriage of a mentally incapacitated Sikh man from the West Midlands whose parents had imported a wife from India for him. Mr Justice Holman ruled that the 38-year-old Briton, named only as RG, was unable to consent to marriage because of his learning difficulties. He requires full-time residential care provided by Sandwell borough council. But the judge decided not to recommend a petition of nullity be issued on RG’s behalf after deciding that RG “gained pleasure” from his Indian-born wife, SK, who told the court she did not know about her husband’s significant disabilities until their wedding day.
The judgment drew strong criticism from campaigners against forced marriage, who claim parents in certain communities in Britain often marry off their disabled children in the hope that their (often unwitting) spouses will act as carers. “The ruling has sent the wrong message,” said Jasvinder Sanghera from the charity Karma Nirvana, which runs a helpline for victims. “One of the definitions of forced marriage is a marriage in which one or both spouses do not or cannot consent and in this case the judge clearly ruled that RG was not capable of consenting to his marriage.” Commending Sandwell council for raising the alarm, Tom Watson, the Labour MP for West Bromwich East, described forced marriage as “wrong, wrong, wrong”.