Britain moves on forced marriages

 

Forced marriage is “little more than slavery”, British prime minister David Cameron said as his government announced plans to make it a criminal offence.

Parents who force their children into a marriage will face jail in what Mr Cameron said was a “clear and strong message” that the practice would not be tolerated.

Campaigners have warned that criminalising forced marriage altogether could deter victims from coming forward but Mr Cameron said an extra £500,000 of funding would help identify and support those affected.

He said: “Forced marriage is abhorrent and is little more than slavery. To force anyone into marriage against their will is simply wrong and that is why we have taken decisive action to make it illegal.

“I have listened to concerns that criminalisation could force this most distressing issue underground.

“That is why we have a new comprehensive package to identify possible victims, support those who have suffered first hand and, indeed, prevent criminality wherever possible.

“We have spent time with those who work tirelessly to raise and address this issue and I want to send a clear and strong message: forced marriage is wrong, is illegal and will not be tolerated.”

Under the plan, forced marriages will become a criminal offence in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The scale of sentences available will be set out in the legislation.

Home secretary Theresa May said: “It is the right of every individual to make their own choices about their relationships and their future.

“Forced marriage is an appalling practice and by criminalising it we are sending a strong message that it will not be tolerated.

“But we know that legislation alone is not enough and we will continue to work across government and with frontline agencies and organisations to support and protect victims.”

Andrew Flanagan, chief executive of children’s charity NSPCC, said the change would need to be monitored to ensure the problem was not pushed further underground.

“Forced marriage is ruining young lives right here in the UK. Very young girls and boys are being coerced or even forced through violence and intimidation to marry spouses sometimes twice their age. This is child abuse plain and simple,” he said.

“The Government must now work closely with professionals such as social workers, teachers and police to make sure any law works in the best interests of the victims.”

In a sign of how widespread the problem is, statistics have been released showing the cross-departmental Forced Marriages Unit had been involved in almost 594 cases from January to May this year.

Some 45 per cent involved victims under the age of 18, 87 per cent of all cases involved a female victim and 46 per cent had Pakistan as the country of origin.

London had 20.9 per cent of cases, the west midlands 16.7 per cent, southeast 10.4 per cent and Yorkshire and Humberside 5.3 per cent. Northern Ireland accounted for just 0.2 per cent of the cases.

PA

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