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Last Updated: Wednesday, 27 October, 2004, 08:02 GMT 09:02 UK
Law on forced marriages pondered
Ring being placed on finger
In the year to April 2004 there were about 300 suspected forced unions.
Forcing someone to marry against their will could become a crime under plans being considered by ministers.

The Home Office is to consult on a specific offence to help young people coerced into relationships.

Other plans include raising the minimum age that a foreigner can enter the UK as a spouse from 16 to 18.

Almost 1,000 cases of suspected forced marriages have been dealt with since 2000, mainly involving links to south Asian countries.

Home Office minister Baroness Scotland said: "Forced marriage is part of no one's culture and I think some people conflate arranged marriage, which is consensual and perfectly proper, with marriages where people are forced into it.

"No religion, no cultural norm says that is OK. It is a breach of human rights," she told BBC Breakfast.

The Home and Foreign Offices will establish a joint forced marriage unit to further combat the problem.

We are going to protect all British citizens who are put in this position irrespective their religion, their faith, their ethnicity or their background
Baroness Scotland
Home Office minister

The team, which expands on work begun by the Foreign Office in 2000, will focus on preventative action through professionals likely to identify a victim, such as teachers, police officers or social workers.

It also wants to work closely with community organisations, particularly women's groups.

Proposals for a new offence will begin with a consultation later this year. At present, those guilty of forcing someone into marriage can be prosecuted for kidnap, false imprisonment or rape.

Hundreds helped

Ministers are open minded about a new offence, accepting it may prove legally difficult to achieve and implement.

In the year to April 2004 there were about 300 suspected cases of forced marriages.

About 200 young people were rescued, resettled or repatriated after approaching the authorities.

Most cases involve women, with some girls as young as 13, although experts suggest up to 15% of cases may involve men marrying against their will.

Many UK forced marriages, which differ entirely from legitimate arranged marriages, involve people from Pakistan, Bangladesh or India.

A smaller number of cases originate in east Africa, the Middle East, and other parts of Asia.

Immigration changes

Most forced marriages involve either physical or psychological intimidation, threats and violence if the individual does not agree to a union.

Two changes to immigration rules are expected to take place before the end of the year.

My mum told me I was going to visit relatives, I didn't have any reason to doubt her
Nasrin, forced marriage victim

The first will see ministers raise the minimum age for people applying for entry or nationality as spouses to 18 - up from 16-years-old.

Ministers hope this will provide potential victims with valuable time in their fight against a forced marriage and emigration to the UK.

The second measure will see a specialist immigration officer placed in Islamabad, Pakistan, by the end of the year.

The official will be trained to both prevent forced emigrations and aid British citizens taken to Pakistan against their will.

However, Baroness Scotland said she wanted to emphasise "that these cases come from all cultures and all over the world".

"We are going to protect all British citizens who are put in this position irrespective their religion, their faith, their ethnicity or their background," she said.

Ministers are keen to educate on the difference between coercive relationships and legitimate arranged marriages, freely entered into by both bride and groom.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
The government is setting up a forced marriage unit



SEE ALSO:
Betrayed into marriage
31 Mar 04  |  UK


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