The Government has decided to make it a criminal offence to force anyone into an unwanted marriage. I think this is a good idea. Last year the police investigated almost 1,500 forced marriages but the real figure could be 8,000 or more. The new law will increase protection and support for victims and also focus on prevention.
Prime Minister David Cameron said:
Forced marriage is abhorrent and is 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.
Emotional pressure is the usual method of coercing young people into marriages although drugging, violence and even abduction are known. The Sun newspaper has revealed the heartbreaking story of two sisters tricked into a holiday in Pakistan where they were forced to marry strangers.
Forcing young people into marriages with strangers is wrong. It violates the sacred trust of parenthood and the individual rights of the victims and it ruins lives. It is intolerable that British citizens can be coerced into loveless and servile marriages in this day and age. However much we love our children, however much we feel we know what is in their best interests, marriage is a decision they are entitled to make for themselves if they wish. There can be no future for forced marriage in the United Kingdom.
Forced marriages are sometimes immigration scams. There are allegations that youngsters with a disability or learning difficulties have been compelled to marry as cover for the new spouse to gain entry into Britain.
Forced marriage is not a part of anyone’s religion. Valid consent is essential for Hindu marriages and the process includes oral and written agreements before the wedding ceremony. The Muslim marriage contract has to be voluntary just like Christian wedding vows.
Let’s be clear about the difference between arranged marriage and forced marriage. Arranged marriages are consensual. The partners agree to friends or relatives finding a spouse for them. That may seem archaic to most of us now but it cannot be doubted that many arranged marriages result in loving and successful partnerships and stable families that strengthen the social fabric of our country. Crucially, the people marrying each other consent to the arrangement and are free to pull out, even at the last minute. But forced marriages are just that and the victims are compelled against their will.
Those who feel they are being pressured into an unwanted marriage can already obtain a court order to protect themselves from coercion and intimidation. But tragically, it doesn’t do much good. Victims often don’t know what is going to happen to them until it is too late. And even when they do, they tend to be young and vulnerable and ignorant of the law.
The proposed law would require everyone marrying abroad to declare their intent to the local registrar before they leave the country. Religious wedding ceremonies would be invalid unless they were entered onto the civil register as well, so that luring children overseas and blackmailing them into unwanted weddings would become legally ineffective back here in Britain.
The Sun was told by one victim that forced marriage is “immoral, inhumane and nothing less than a prison sentence which can be mental and physical torture. This law will give hope and rescue many innocent and helpless victims before they drown in a life of despair and unhappiness.”
Home Secretary Theresa May said:
It is the right of every individual to make their own choices about their relationships and their future. Forced marriage is an appalling practice and by criminalising it we are sending a strong message that it will not be tolerated.
But we know that legislation alone is not enough and we will continue to work across government and with frontline agencies and organisations to support and protect victims.
The Coalition has also signed Britain up to the Council of Europe’s convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (CAHVIO). Signing the convention reflects the Government’s continuing commitment to tackling violence against women and girls, including forced marriage, female genital mutilation, stalking, physical and psychological violence and sexual violence.