A new law criminalizing forced marriage came into force in Britain on Monday in a move that campaigners say could protect hundreds of victims each year, in particular within ethnic minority communities.
Anyone found guilty of forcing someone into marriage in England and Wales can face a maximum jail term of seven years under the new Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014.
Importantly, the new law criminalizes forcing a British national into marriage outside the United Kingdom, in a significant move for victims from South Asian migrant communities who are forced to travel back home to enter into marriages.
Home Secretary Theresa May said: “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 (FMU) working hard to tackle this terrible practice in the UK and overseas.”
Mrs May has joined anti-child marriage charity Freedom, police, the Crown Prosecution Service and a victim of forced marriage in a Freedom2Choose campaign video.
The Home Office has said the FMU gave advice or support in a possible forced marriage to more than 1,300 people in 2013: worryingly, 43% of those cases related to Pakistani families, 11% to Indian and 10% to Bangladeshi families.
Freedom founder Aneeta Prem 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 not be tolerated.”
Last week, Britain’s National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children NSPCC said children as young as 12 were calling ChildLine about forced marriage, with numbers up two-thirds in the last year.
Before the new law, courts in England and Wales were able to issue notoriously difficult to enforce civil orders to prevent victims being forced into marriage.
Here‘s the link to the Theresa May video.