New legislation comes into force today making forced marriages a criminal offence. A forced marriage is defined as one where one or both people do not (or in cases of people with learning disabilities, cannot) consent to the marriage and pressure or abuse is used.
The new laws mean that forcing someone to marry can result in a sentence of up to 7 years in prison. Disobeying a Forced Marriage Protection Order can also result in a sentence of up to 5 years in prison. The new legislation also makes forcing a UK national into marriage outside the UK an offence under domestic law for the first time.
The Prime Minister, David Cameron, commented:
“Forced marriage is abhorrent and 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,
“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,” he said.
“We have spent time with those who work tirelessly to raise and address this issue and I want to send a clear and strong message: forced marriage is wrong, illegal and will not be tolerated.”
Forced Marriage Unit
The Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) is a joint Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Home Office unit was which set up in January 2005 to lead on the Government’s forced marriage policy, outreach and casework. Last year the government’s Forced Marriage Unit gave advice or support to more than 1300 people.
The Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 which comes into force today, makes it a criminal offence to force someone to marry. This includes taking someone overseas to force them to marry (whether or not the forced marriage takes place) and marrying someone who lacks the mental capacity to consent to the marriage (whether they’re pressured to or not). In addition breaching a Forced Marriage Protection Order is also a criminal offence.
The civil remedy of obtaining a Forced Marriage Protection Order through the family courts will continue to exist alongside the new criminal offence, so victims can choose how they wish to be assisted.
Home Secretary, Theresa May, declared:
“Forced marriage is a tragedy for each and every victim, and its very nature means that many cases go unreported. I am proud to say that the UK is already a world-leader in the fight to stamp out this harmful practice with the government’s Forced Marriage Unit working hard to tackle this terrible practice in the UK and overseas.
“Today’s criminalisation is a further move by this government to ensure victims are protected by the law and that they have the confidence, safety and the freedom to choose.
“This summer, the Prime Minister will also be hosting the UK’s first summit dedicated to galvanising action against forced marriage and related issues.”