Some parents are using forced marriage as a long-term care option for people with learning disabilities, a parliamentary meeting heard this week.
Haji Saghir Alam, a member of government disability advisory body Equality 2025, said some parents saw forced marriage as a way of ensuring their learning disabled children would be cared for when they could no longer do so themselves.
Addressing the all-party parliamentary group for Voice UK, which campaigns for access to justice for people with learning disabilities, Alam said some parents saw few other options for care because of the breakdown of the extended family and a lack of appropriate social care.
Alam, a member of the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s disability committee, also said parents were influenced by cultural pressures, with marriage seen as a way of avoiding the stimga related to disability.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s forced marriage unit does not publish figures on the number of cases involving people with learning disabilities, but Alam said it was a significant issue, particularly in the north of England.
He said tackling the problem required both the “carrot and the stick”, including promoting independent living for disabled people from south Asian communities.
Alam added: “We need to give parents another option so that they don’t see forced marriage as a long-term care option, but as a human rights issue.”
He also urged the FCO to appoint a named lead on disability at the forced marriage unit.
No Secrets review
The all-party group meeting also heard an update on the Department of Health’s review of the No Secrets adult protection guidance from its lead civil servant on the issue, Lucy Bonnerjea.
She said the review team had so far spoken to over 600 people and acknowledged the strong support for putting adult protection on a statutory footing, like child protection. This could give social workers the right to enter people’s homes and place duties on relevant agencies to work together.
But while she said the DH was open to the idea, she added: “We need to identify whether we do actually need it. We need to work out what really does make a difference.”
She said the DH was planning to publish a consultation paper during the parliamentary summer recess, which runs from the end of this month to early October.
Forced marriage unit