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Action to combat gender-based human rights violations, including abduction of women and girls

Committee Opinion | Doc. 11873 | 27 April 2009

(Former) Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee
Rapporteur :
Mr Mike HANCOCK, United Kingdom, ALDE
See Doc. 11784 presented by the Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men. 2009 - Second part-session

A Conclusion

1. The significance and importance of the report by Ms Antigoni Papadopoulos cannot be stressed enough. It is the responsibility of every Council of Europe member state to do everything in its power to protect victims or potential victims and prevent gender-related infringements of basic rights.
2. A forced marriage has been defined as one conducted without the valid consent of both parties, where pressure or abuse is used. Although in the Western world, forced marriage is sometimes put forward as a religious practice, no major world faith condones it. A forced marriage must be distinguished from an arranged marriage, where both parties fully and freely consent to the marriage, although their families take a leading role in the choice of partner.
3. The report rightly highlights the complexity of the problem of tackling gender-based human rights violations mainly attributable to the great pressures exerted in some immigrant or other communities in Council of Europe member states. The rapporteur identifies such pressures as resulting from patriarchal cultures where the preservation of family honour and the maintenance of ancestral customs take precedence over the basic human rights of women and girls.
4. Such human rights violations can either take place on the territory of a Council of Europe member state or within a third country, such as the place of origin of the woman or girl, where such a practice persists. The difficulty lies in identifying appropriate forms of prevention, intervention and condemnation, especially when the violation takes place in a third country.
5. Practical difficulties arise if the victim has dual nationality. However, consular protection may allow a state party to protect its national even if the offence is committed in a third country. In this regard, the rapporteur has suggested the conclusion of bilateral agreements which facilitate joint action between the authorities.
6. The report rightly addresses and suggests measures to be taken at national and international level. In this regard, the rapporteur notices the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Hague Conference on Private International Law, which emphasise Council of Europe member states’ duty to take action and protect girls and women from such human rights violations.

B Explanatory memorandum by Mr Michael Hancock

1. At the national level, states have a duty to help victims through early intervention and information for victims or potential victims, as well as prevention measures targeted at younger women and their families. There is a need to develop training programmes for involved parties, such as the police, magistrates and social workers. The rapporteur underlines cases of good practices developed in certain Council of Europe member states, the experience of which should be made available to other member states to develop effective measures.
2. In 2005 the Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) was launched in the United Kingdom. It is dedicated to preventing British nationals being forced into marriage overseas. Anyone who fears that they, or someone they know, may be forced into a marriage overseas is advised to contact the FMU, on a confidential basis.
3. The Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007 came into force in autumn 2008. The aim of the act is to provide civil remedies for those faced with forced marriage and victims of forced marriage. Hopes have been expressed that the approach of the act, in using civil rather than criminal law provisions, will encourage victims to seek protection because it would not involve reporting family members to the police. Under the act, a person who is being forced into marriage or has been forced into marriage may apply to the court for a forced marriage protection order.
4. Contrary to the act, I do agree with Ms Antigoni Papadopoulos that criminal conviction is required. However, taking into account the complexity and sensitivity of this problem, less drastic measures could prove more effective.
5. The government has consulted on migration measures designed to combat forced marriage, including, as it was rightly stressed by Ms Antigoni Papadopoulos in her report, raising the minimum age of the spouse and sponsor for a marriage visa from 18 to 21 and the introduction of an English language test before entry for spouses who intend to settle in the United Kingdom.
6. The Home Affairs Committee in the United Kingdom Parliament has conducted an inquiry into domestic violence including issues of forced marriages and so-called “honour killings”. The government has also outlined the steps being taken to protect children in relation to forced marriage.
7. I encourage the member states of the Council of Europe to promote similar legislation in their countries and also the importance of international co-operation to tackle violations which take place in a third country. In this context, consulates have the duty to develop networks with the authorities in the country and local non-governmental organisations. Consular staff require training to become more aware and proactive.
8. During discussion in the committee, members stressed the following points (and I fully endorse them):
  • the importance of recognising the role and responsibility of the in-country local communities, in particular to do away with the “plague” of ancient practices, such as female circumcision;
  • the need for properly funded social and health services and properly qualified social workers in dealing with gender-based human rights violations, including the abduction of women and girls.
9. The rapporteur outlines a series of detailed measures to be taken by every Council of Europe member state. I congratulate the rapporteur on the thoroughness of her work and the range of actions that are suggested.


Reporting committee: Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men.

Committee for opinion: Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee.

Reference to committee: Reference No. 3200 of 26 January 2009.

Opinion approved by the committee on 27 April 2009.

Secretariat of the committee: Mr Mezei, Ms Arzilli.