News story

Forced marriage now a crime

New law will help protect thousands of potential victims

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

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Forcing someone to marry against their will is now a criminal offence.

New legislation introduced today (16 June) by the government is designed to help people in England and Wales. It also applies to UK nationals overseas who are at risk of becoming the victim of a forced marriage.

Forced marriage can involve physical, psychological, emotional, financial and sexual abuse including being held unlawfully captive, assaulted and raped.

In 2013, the government’s Forced Marriage Unit gave advice or support related to a possible forced marriage to more than 1300 people.

Maximum penalty of seven years

The maximum penalty for the new offence of forced marriage is seven years imprisonment.

Law enforcement agencies will also be able to pursue perpetrators in other countries where a UK national is involved under new powers defined in legislation.

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 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.

The new legislation also makes forcing a UK national into marriage outside the UK an offence under domestic law for the first time. The offence is triable in courts in England and Wales.

The new criminal offences will work alongside existing civil legislation (Forced Marriage Protection Orders - FMPOs) allowing victims to pursue a civil or criminal option.

Speedier and more effective

FMPOs can already be made by a civil court against any individuals suspected of trying to force a victim into marriage. From today the breach of a FMPO is a criminal offence with a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine.

This will strengthen the existing law by enabling speedier and more effective enforcement action against those who breach the terms of an order.

It will still be possible for victims to seek enforcement for breach of a forced marriage protection order by way of the civil court’s contempt powers as an alternative to reporting the breach to the police.

Crime Prevention Minister Norman Baker said:

Forced marriage is an appalling form of abuse which crosses borders and cultural boundaries. The scale of reported cases is deeply worrying, but this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Legislation is the next key step in solving this problem and builds on the hard work already being done by the government and third sector organisations to tackle this practice.

The message from the coalition government is clear - forced marriage is totally unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

Aneeta Prem, founder of Freedom charity, which exists to educate young people about forced marriage, said:

I am delighted that the government has taken action to criminalise forced marriage.

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.

Dr Ash Chand, the NSPCC’s strategy head for minority ethnic children said:

The change in the law to make forced marriage a crime in England and Wales is a huge step forward which we hope will deter those plotting against their own children.

Many young people who call our ChildLine service about this issue are frightened, concerned and feel control of their lives is being wrenched from them.

We have produced an animation that will help allay their fears and encourage them to contact us for help and advice.

Published 16 June 2014