Case Study – Tackling enforced marriage
The following case study from Birmingham City Council relates to the involvement of a Social Worker four years after she had qualified and highlights the beneficial outcome she was able to achieve on behalf of a young Asian man with severe learning disabilities who had participated in an enforced marriage.
The positive results the Social Worker was able to achieve were entirely due to the proactive, imaginative and sensitive approach she pursued, which not only considered how best to serve the young man’s interests, but also took into account the cultural views held by his parents and the need to preserve their dignity and standing within their local community and that of their wider family who continued to reside in their country of origin.
When she became aware that “Sajid”, a young man of Pakistani origin, who had severe learning disabilities, had participated in a wedding ceremony abroad, Harprit (his allocated Social Worker) discussed the concerns she had in relation to Sajid’s lack of capacity with her Team Manager, which led them both to believe that, what initially may have been viewed in some quarters as a culturally acceptable “arranged” marriage, could potentially have been an “enforced” marriage, due to his inability to understand the meaning of the undertaking and convey his agreement to it.
As a consequence, it was felt necessary for Harprit to meet with the parents and sensitively advise them of the potential legality of the situation. The required interaction was, however, fraught with challenge and hostility from the outset, with Harprit being viewed as an “unwelcome” intruder within the family home and having to face prejudice on the grounds of her own race, religious faith, language, gender and profession, with the family being extremely reluctant to engage with her, very defensive of their actions and refusing to accept any wrong-doing.
Acknowledging the limitations of her own personal knowledge and cultural sensitivities, Harprit proactively sought clarity and direction from the Sharia Council in London and the Muslim Council locally, who confirmed that a declaration of divorce in the presenting circumstances would be accepted as valid. Having subsequently shared this view with the family, the parents eventually accepted the marriage was invalid and agreed to work towards obtaining an Islamic divorce.
Whilst it was hoped the legal case which had to be pursued could then be concluded in a timely manner, the Judge sought further evidence that Sajid’s ‘wife’ was aware of the marriage dissolution, which posed a real challenge, as she lived in Pakistan and was not easily contactable, which prompted the Judge in question to request that the Social Worker undertake the required journey and personally advise her of the legal steps that were being undertaken to dissolve the marriage she had entered into with Sajid.
Torn between the need to adhere to the legal directive and the impracticality of undertaking such a journey to the remote part of Pakistan in question, Harprit had all of the relevant documentation translated into the local dialect and sent this by recorded delivery to Sajid’s wife, having obtained the relevant address from his parents, with whom she had subsequently established a trusted relationship.
Unfortunately, as the system for tracking the delivery of recorded items of post was only effective as far as Islamabad, at the next Court hearing, the Judge refused to accept the safe receipt of the posted documentation, despite a family friend having confirmed that he was made aware on a recent visit to the wife’s family’s home that a package from the U.K. had been received, and Harprit was again asked to make the said journey.
Thinking completely “outside of the box”, Harprit sought advice from Royal Mail in the U.K and, having obtained the relevant contact details of the equivalent postal agency in Pakistan, was subsequently able to make telephone contact with the actual postman who made deliveries to the remote village in question and, through the assistance of an Interpreter, was able to request that the barcoded receipt be scanned and sent back to her electronically, so that she may share this with the Judge as proof that the required documentation pack advising Sajid’s wife of the legal process that was being pursued to have the marriage annulled had been received.
Having received the aforementioned proof, the Judge finally concluded the case, which was received with great relief by Sajid parents, who were becoming increasingly distressed about repeated Court appearances, and the valiant efforts on Harprit’s part enabled the family to “move on” with their lives.
SERVICE USER BENEFITS
Sajid, as a result of Harprit’s intervention, was safeguarded from an arrangement he did not understand, which the Forced Marriage Unit viewed as “an indefensible practice in violation of internationally recognised human rights”.
Utilising the Mental Capacity Act to work with Sajid, Harprit considered the least restrictive options and attempted to maximise his capacity through training, such as in the areas of sexual awareness and relationships and, being fully supported throughout the process, he was given the opportunity to discuss his views/feelings on such issues.
Harprit also went through the Best Interest process with Sajid and, utilising the checklist, ensured he was involved as much as possible in any decision-making and that his views and wishes were heard.
Although Court involvement was necessary, Harprit minimised the impact on Sajid by working with his family to increase their understanding of the situation, which resulted in all parties agreeing to a marriage annulment. Without such sensitive intervention, the case may have been contested, which would have meant a lengthier Hearing and further potential legal action.
There is no doubt that Sajid benefitted tremendously from Harprit’s interventions and enjoys a renewed and strengthened relationship with his family, which may not have otherwise been the outcome, had someone with less tenacity, compassion and creativity been assigned to this case.
Sajid continues to have a good relationship with his family, who were previously unaware of the presenting legal issues or the potentially damaging effect the marriage could have had on their son. Through Harprit’s sensitive interventions and support provided to the family, they continue to support Sajid and are in agreement about what is in his Best Interests.
The above case study could be considered to be a prime example of outstanding practice in very challenging circumstances and testimony to how the diligent and conscientious application of social work principles and values can make a real different to the lives of individuals (Social Workers included).
Although there were numerous obstacles to be overcome over a protracted period of time, Harprit managed to strike a delicate balance between protecting Sajid’s rights as a vulnerable adult and supporting the family through the required Court proceedings.
Whilst Harprit’s persistence/dedication to her work is clearly evident and her creative thinking saved the Directorate significant travel expenses, she would personally view the successful outcome as being able to have safeguarded Sajid’s rights, whilst maintaining a positive relationship with his family, although she acknowledges that being able to eventually have a good relationship with the family played a crucial part in attempting to resolve this very difficult legal case.