Forcing someone to marry will become a criminal offence in England and Wales, the Prime Minister announced today.
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 and a continuing focus on prevention.
The Prime Minister 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 nation-wide outreach programme in schools and statutory agencies across the country. This year alone (January to May 2012), the Forced Marriage Unit has provided advice or support to nearly 600 cases. Meanwhile the UK’s embassies and high commissions work to rescue British victims facing forced marriage overseas, and help them return to the UK.
Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt said:
“Today’s announcement sends a strong signal of our determination to stop this practice, and to continue to support British victims who may be taken abroad to marry against their wishes.”
Building on the work being done nationally and by local agencies and charities on the ground, the government today announced that it will invest more than half a million pounds over the next three years. The funding will help deliver further measures including:
- helping those working in education and safeguarding know how to spot the earliest signs and what action to take;
- helping victims receive the right support in a joined-up way by expanding the current training for relevant professional agencies - including the CPS, police, judiciary, health agencies, and social services, and identify a Single Point of Contact in every local authority;
- making the breach of a Forced Marriage Protection Order a criminal offence;
- raising awareness of the risk of forced marriage abroad through a major summer campaign, highlighting the right to choose and the help available;
- rescuing those who have already become victims overseas and putting in place a comprehensive support package for victims who have been repatriated; and
- engaging communities through a nation-wide programme focussed on prevention and education, delivered through regional road shows and debates.
Today the government also signed 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.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said:
“Violence against women should never be tolerated in any form. By signing up to this Convention on preventing and combating violence against women we are making clear our commitment to take it very seriously.
“All of us, not just the Government, have a responsibility to address violence against women and girls - within our families, in our communities, at our places of work and within society at large.
“The UK already has some of the most robust protections against violence towards women in the world and we are continuing to strengthen our approach.”