New law in England and Wales makes forced marriage a criminal offence

This article was last updated on May 26, 2022

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A new law in England and Wales making forced marriage a criminal offence will come into effect on Monday, with those found guilty of this banned practice will be sentenced up to maximum seven years of jail under the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014.

Earlier, courts were only authorised to issue civil orders to prevent victims being forced into marriage.

Ministers also back the new law saying it will provide victims with the confidence to come forward and protect thousands of people every year.

Home Secretary Theresa May has said the practice of forced marriage was “a tragedy for each and every victim”.

She has also told that the criminalisation under the new legislation was “a further move by the government to ensure victims are protected by the law and that they have the confidence, safety and the freedom to choose”.

The fresh act will apply if people are forced into marriage in England and Wales, as well as to U.K. nationals at risk of being forced into marriage abroad.

According to the reports, the government’s Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) dealt with 1,302 cases during the previous year.

Out of the reported cases, around 82% of victims were female and 18% male while 15% were under the age of 15.

The cases were related to 74 different countries with 43% linked to Pakistan, 11% to India and 10% to Bangladesh.

However the charity Henna Foundation’s representative Shereen Williams has said it may lead to opposite consequences: “David Cameron was hell bent on making this a criminal offence but we’re not sure how it will help, as the victims will be very reluctant to take action that could lead to the imprisonment of their parents or other family members.”

Still, the Freedom founder Aneeta Prem has welcomed the new legislation, saying: “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. Everyone should have the freedom to choose.”

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