Enhanced laws aim to cut forced marriages

datingForced marriage is continuing in Britain – despite the move in June to criminalise the practice. The continued prevalence has prompted the government’s Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) to go on a road show (which is in Avon and Somerset today) to try and curb the practice

Nearly two-thirds of the cases that the FMU deals with stem from the South Asian communities, where the cultural practice of arranged marriage can occasionally become forced marriage, which the government considers a form of violence.

The law defines a forced marriage as one in which one or both spouses are coerced into marrying by “physical, psychological, financial, sexual or emotional pressure.” An arranged marriage is presumed to be one where both parties consent. The legislation, which carries a maximum prison sentence of seven years, also makes it a crime to force a British subject into marriage abroad, since some families force their children to fly to countries, like Pakistan, India or Bangladesh, for an arranged marriage there.

When the practice was outlawed Theresa May, the Home Secretary, said “forced marriage is a tragedy for each and every victim, and its very nature means that many cases go unreported.”

Last year the FMU dealt with 1,302 cases, with 82 percent of the victims female, while 40 percent were age 17 or under and 15 percent were 15 or under. The Home Office said 43 percent of the cases involved Pakistan, 11 percent India and 10 percent Bangladesh, though 74 countries were involved.

Other estimates from social workers and campaigners suggest that there are 5,000 to 8,000 cases of forced marriage annually in Britain.

One woman told the BBC, which did not reveal her name, that she had been duped into travelling to Pakistan at the age of 17 to marry her first cousin on the pretext of a family vacation. She later escaped what she called an “absolutely horrendous” marriage, in which she was “treated like a slave” by the family of her husband. Her own family has disowned her.

Charities support forced marriage laws

Jasvinder Sanghera, founder of Karma Nirvana a charity, which supports victims of honour crimes and forced marriages said victims should report violations, and then decide whether to prosecute. “Nobody is going to be forcing you to prosecute or criminalise your parents,” she said. The charity currently receives over 500 calls a month to its helpline.

The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) said that children as young as 12 had contacted the group about forced marriage, and that the number of calls trebled over the last three years.

Civil courts have long been able to issue Forced Marriage Protection Orders to prevent forced marriage. Ignoring such an order can lead to a five year prison sentence. The new laws beef up protection against such marriages.

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