David Cameron is right to criminalise forced marriage. This abominable, inhumane act robs people of their lives.
In deciding to criminalise forced marriage – the act of coercing a person to marry against their will – the government has made a bold statement: that this heinous, inhumane, oppressive act is never acceptable. The decision couldn’t come soon enough. The government’s forced marriage unit (FMU) provided advice or support in almost 1,500 cases last year, but the true picture is thought to be even graver. One study in 2009 estimated that up to 8,000 women and men, girls and boys could be entering into unwilling unions each year, often being torn from their lives in Britain to live in an unknown land with an unknown spouse.
Shockingly, a third of victims assisted by the FMU last year were minors – schoolchildren who suddenly became spouses either here or abroad –the youngest reported case is thought to have been just five years old.
We must be clear. This is not like arranged marriage, where two parties consent. In forced marriage, to resist betrothal is to risk ostracism, abuse and even murder. Currently, the law does not go far enough. Forced marriage protection orders were introduced in 2008, but breaching an order is only a breach of civil law. The message this sends out is a dangerous one: it says that Britain equates this enforced matrimony with mere civil misdemeanours.