The decision to create a specific offence of forced marriage follows a 12-week consultation which took views from the public, victims, charities and frontline agencies. The new law will be accompanied by a range of measures to increase protection and support for victims with a continuing 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.
‘I have listened to concerns that criminalisation could force this most distressing issue underground. That is why we have a new comprehensive package to identify possible victims, support those who have suffered first hand and, indeed, prevent criminality wherever possible.
‘We have spent time with those who work tirelessly to raise and address this issue and I want to send a clear and strong message: forced marriage is wrong, is illegal and will not be tolerated.’
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 UK is already a global leader on work to tackle forced marriage. The unique, cross-departmental Forced Marriage Unit runs a helpline providing confidential support and advice to victims and professionals and conducts a nationwide outreach programme with schools and other agencies, including social services and the police.
Between January and May 2012, the Forced Marriage Unit has provided advice and support in nearly 600 cases. Meanwhile the UK’s embassies and high commissions work to rescue British victims forced into marriage overseas, and help them return to the UK.