Forced married became a criminal offence last week, punishable by imprisonment.
Prior to the changes on 16 June 2014, the courts have only been able to issue civil orders in an attempt to prevent forced marriage. Now, the offence of forcing someone to marry carries a potential sentence of seven years in prison.
Also, the changes see Section 63CA inserted into the Family Law Act 1996 meaning that it is now a criminal offence to breach a Forced Marriage Protection Order, with a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment.
A forced marriage is where one or both people do not (or in cases of people with learning disabilities, cannot) consent to the marriage and pressure or abuse is used. Forced marriage is recognised in the UK as a form of violence against women and men, domestic/child abuse and a serious abuse of human rights.
‘Force’ can include psychical, psychological, emotional, financial and sexual abuse in relation to unwanted marriage.
The new law will not only apply to those being forced to marry in the UK, but also those UK citizens who are being forced to marry abroad.
The Government’s Forced Marriage Unit was set up in 2005 to provide advice and support for victims of forced marriage as well as to professionals dealing with forced marriage cases. The assistance ranges from safety advice to extreme steps such as rescuing a victim taken overseas to marry. In 2013, the Forced Marriage Unit provided advice and support in more than 1,300 forced marriage cases.
However, various campaigners have warned that the new law may actually deter victims from coming forward because they do not wish to see their parents or other family members punished.
There have also been calls for extra support for victims, who will need guidance and assistance throughout the process. The Forced Marriage Unit will need to ensure that extra measures are put in place to deal with a potential increase in demand for their services. It will also be very important for case workers to understand that some victims may be extremely reluctant to take any legal action and will need sensitive handling.
Jane Tenquist, Head of Family at Myerson suggests “Educating children on these issues from a young age is key. It is important for children and young adults to understand that forced marriage is wrong and is not acceptable practice. This, coupled with the recent positive action taken by the Government, will hopefully bring about a long awaited change and reduction in the number of UK citizens being forced to marry”.