Prime Minister David Cameron has announced that forced marriage will become a criminal offence in England and Wales.
The decision to create a specific offence of forced marriage follows a 12 week consultation which took views from the public, victims, charities and frontline agencies. The new law will be accompanied by a range of measures to increase protection and support for victims and a continuing focus on prevention.
“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,” Mr. Cameron said. “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.”
Mr. Cameron added that they have spent time with those who work tirelessly to raise and address forced marriage. “I want to send a clear and strong message: forced marriage is wrong, is illegal and will not be tolerated.”
It is estimated that up to 8000 young women a year are forced into marriages without their consent.
UK’s cross-departmental Forced Marriage Unit runs a helpline providing confidential support and advice to victims and professionals and conducts a nation-wide outreach programme in schools and statutory agencies across the country.
This year alone (January to May 2012), the Forced Marriage Unit has provided advice or support to nearly 600 cases.
UK’s embassies and high commissions also work to rescue British victims facing forced marriage overseas, and help them return to the UK.
Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt said the decision to criminalise forced marriage “sends a strong signal of our determination to stop this practice, and to continue to support British victims who may be taken abroad to marry against their wishes.”
The government has also announced that it will invest more than half a million pounds over the next three years on work to tackle forced marriage.
“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,” Home Secretary Theresa May said. “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.”