Outlawing forced marriage will not work, say campaigners

New laws coming into force which criminalise forced marriage could deter victims from coming forward because they do not want to see parents and family members jailed, campaigners have warned.

The Home Office’s legislation makes compelling someone into marriage against their will a specific criminal offence for the first time, carrying up to seven years&rs imprisonment. It also makes it possible to prosecute perpetrators from other countries where a British national is being forced to wed.  The law will cover physical, psychological, emotional, financial and sexual abuse in relation to unwanted marriage, and is designed to help male and female victims alike.  But Shereen Williams of the Henna Foundation, which has helped hundreds of victims of forced marriage over the last 15 years, said: “David Cameron was hell bent on making this a criminal offence but we’re not sure how it will help.

 “Victims will be very reluctant to take action that could lead to the imprisonment of their parents or other family members.  We are also concerned that no guidance has been issued to police or the Crown Prosecution Service on how to implement the new law, meaning things will continue as they are.”

Anne-Marie Hutchinson, a solicitor who specialises in representing people facing forced marriage, said: “There is a real danger that victims of forced marriage will be deterred from coming forward to seek protection from forced marriage if they fear that members of their close family will be imprisoned.

“It is imperative now that forced marriage has been criminalised, that victims receive full and proper support from the authorities throughout the process.”
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.

“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.”
Other campaigners were supportive of the new offence.

Aneeta Prem, founder of Freedom charity, which educates young people about forced marriage, said: “In the most tragic cases, people forced into marriage become domestic slaves by day and sexual slaves by night.

“Today’s announcement sends out a powerful message that this indefensible abuse of human rights will be not be tolerated.”

Last year the Government’s Forced Marriage Unit provided advice or support in more than 1,300 cases where a wedding was due to take place against someone’s will – in contrast to arranged marriages which are by both parties’ consent.

BBC, 16/06/2014