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Forced marriage has always been a crime in spirit

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.



Parents who force their children into marriage face jail

Parents who coerce their children to marry will face jail under moves to be set out tomorrow by David Cameron.

The Prime Minister will announce that forced marriage will be made a criminal offence following reports that up to 8,000 Britons are made to marry against their consent every year. He has previously described the practice – which can include kidnapping, beatings and rape – as “little more than slavery” and “completely wrong”.

Most cases of forced marriage involve families from southern Asia, including Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. Among them are hundreds of girls below the age of 16 who are taken abroad to be coerced into marriage. The Government’s forced-marriage unit – which dealt with 1,500 cases last year – has revealed that a five-year-old girl was one of 400 children it helped. One in five victims was male.

The Government is already committed to criminalising breaches of forced-marriage protection orders, which are criminal injunctions and carry jail terms of up to two years for contempt of court. But ministers have decided to go further and draw up a new criminal offence for England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The offence will carry a prison sentence, but the maximum term has not yet been decided. During consultation on the move, concerns were expressed that criminalising forced marriage altogether could deter victims from coming forward to police.


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