Forcing someone to marry is to become a criminal offence in Englandand Wales, leaving parents who coerce their children into amarriage facing the prospect of prison, David Cameron has confirmed. The prime minister said he had listened to concerns that making forced marriage a specific criminal offence could deter victims from comingforward and would in response put into place a comprehensivepackage of protection and support to ensure "this most distressingissue" was not driven underground. The announcement by the prime minister and the home secretary, Theresa May , of their intention to introduce legislation is light on detailbut it is expected that the existing civil remedy of forcedmarriage protection orders will continue to exist alongside the newcriminal offence. This is designed to give victims the choice of taking the civilroute or making a complaint to the police leading to a possiblecriminal prosecution. |
Victims will also be guaranteed that theywill not be forced to support a prosecution against their wishes.However, ministers have ruled out giving victims a veto overwhether a prosecution already begun should continue, which wouldhave been a radical departure from existing English criminal lawpractice in which all prosecutions are carried out in the name ofthe crown. The precise timetable to create the offence is unclear but it isexpected that any legislation would be published in draft form forconsultation and is unlikely to be put before parliament before2013. As expected, ministers also want to introduce criminal penaltiesfor breaches of civil forced marriage protection orders, which canbe used to prevent children being taken abroad to marry. Home Office civil servants have indicated that a new forcedmarriage offence could also involve the creation of a new criminaloffence of "luring" somebody into a forced marriage. Ministersstress that there is a clear distinction between arranged marriagesand forced marriages, where no consent is involved.
A Home Office impact assessment published earlier this year saidthat a new offence could mean about 20 extra prosecutions a yearand would need only eight additional prison places. Officials havelong argued that existing offences of kidnap, abduction andharassment can be used to prosecute in most cases. Friday's announcement also includes a 500,00 fund to helpschools and other agencies to spot early signs of a forced marriageover the next three years. A major summer campaign to raiseawareness of the risk of forced marriage abroad is also to belaunched. "Forced marriage is abhorrent and little more than slavery.
Toforce anyone into marriage against their will is simply wrong andthat is why we have taken decisive action to make it illegal," saidCameron. "I have listened to concerns that criminalisation could force thismost distressing issue underground. That is why we have a newcomprehensive package to identify possible victims, support thosewho have suffered first hand, and, indeed, prevent criminalitywherever possible," he said. "We have spent time with those who work tirelessly to raise andaddress this issue and I want to send a clear and strong message:forced marriage is wrong, illegal and will not be tolerated." The Home Office said the government's forced marriage unit hadprovided advice or support in nearly 600 cases this year, including14% involving children below the age of 15.
Nearly half the casesinvolved families living in Britain from Pakistan; others involvedfamilies from Bangladesh, India, Afghanistan and Turkey. Nearly 10% of cases involve British-born families. The forcedmarriage unit helped in 1,468 cases last year including one caseinvolving a five-year-old victim and another involving an87-year-old. The Iranian and Kurdish Women's Rights Organisation, which has beencampaigning for criminalisation since 2006, welcomed theannouncement.
"Perpetrators of forced marriage will now be heldaccountable for their actions and could be sent to prison," saidits director, Diana Nammi. "Forced marriage is a violation of humanrights itself, and can lead to physical violence, imprisonment,rape and even 'honour' killing. Women and girls from minoritycommunities have suffered these violations for too long. The newlaw will empower them with the knowledge that what is happening tothem is wrong and can be stopped." The shadow equalities minister, Kate Green, said the law should bestrengthened to build on the work already done to stop forcedmarriage. "The government needs to work with experts to get thedetail right and also to make sure that cuts to refuges or legalaid don't undermine the support victims need in practice," shesaid.
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