The Home Office recently increased the minimum age for both spouses to 21 if a foreign spouse is to enter the UK on a spouse visa. The same requirements apply to unmarried, same sex and civil partners.
As discussed previously on this blog, the justification given by the Home Office was that the change will help prevent forced marriages. Some very thin statistical evidence is cited for this claim, and the Home Office very lightly dismissed the concern that increasing the visa age would not stop foreign spouses coming in, it would force young settled men and women to move abroad instead, to be with their foreign spouses.
It turns out that the Home Office commissioned a respected team of specialist researchers to look into the question of whether raising the spouse visa age to 21 or 24 would help prevent forced marriages. The researchers did what sounds like some excellent work on the subject and found that forced marriage survivors and everyone else thought that the risks outweighed the benefits, Nand that there was no evidence at all to suggest that the previous rise in the visa age from 16 to 18 had done anything to prevent forced marriages. A summary of the findings is available [29/5/09: I’ve had to upload a saved version as the University of Bristol one vanished]. The risks were, amongst other things
“Increased risk of physical and psychological harm to victims and potential victims of forced marriage, which included young British women being taken abroad to marry and kept there forcibly until they were old enough to sponsor their spouses; entering the UK with false documentation; and implications for mental health, particularly attempted suicide and self-harm. The concern was that an increase in age could also prevent victims from accessing some potential sources of support, such as those provided via child protection legislation and education-based counselling support.”
It was also suggested the change would have a discriminatory effect and would adversely affect the human rights of those who entered into marriage by consent (the vast, vast majority).
These outcomes are the opposite of what the Home Office says that it hopes to achieve. Does the Home Office have access to some research results that suggest the above is all wrong? I think not. In truth, what has happened is that the Home Office commissioned the research, disagreed with the evidence and despite the risks to young people in this country and abroad have decided to go ahead with it anyway.
Oh, and the Home Office have decided not to publish the research in full. Evidence based policy making this most certainly is not.