Page last updated at 10:00 GMT, Tuesday, 25 November 2008

New laws against forced marriages

Forced Marriage Unit poster
A special government unit tackles the issue of forced marriages

Laws to prevent forced marriages and protect those who have already fallen victim have been introduced in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The laws mean anyone convicted of trying to force someone into marriage could be jailed for up to two years.

A victim, friend or police can apply for a Forced Marriage Protection Order.

These court injunctions will forbid families from actions such as taking people abroad for marriage, seizing passports or intimidating victims.

Penalties for breaching an order include up to two years' imprisonment.

The legislation is the first to specifically target the problem of forced marriages.

Previously the issue had been dealt with through existing measures, such as those contained in the Children's Act, and immigration laws.

'Clear message'

Justice minister Bridget Prentice said: "This new law is a powerful tool that will help ensure that no-one is forced into marriage against their will and those already in such marriages will receive protection."

A Forced Marriage Protection Order could also require family members to reveal a person's whereabouts.

Alan Campbell, Home Office minister, said: "We are determined to do all we can to support victims of forced marriage, prevent others from becoming victims and provide police and other agencies with the tools and powers they need."

The new legislation was welcomed by Shaminder Ubhi, director of the Ashiana Network, which supports South Asian, Turkish and Iranian women who are experiencing domestic violence.

"Understandably, not all people will want to seek legal redress, but certainly this act sends a clear message that forced marriage will not be tolerated and perpetrators will be held accountable".

Shazia Qayum, who now works for a charity, Karma Nirvana, to help Asian women, was forced into marriage in 1998, when she was 17.

She told BBC Radio 5 Live she was strongly in favour of the new legislation.

"The victims who come to our organisation quite clearly say that they would use this act," she said.

The onus to go for a civil protection order is actually on the victim
Baroness Warsi, Conservatives

"I would have certainly used it, because I know it would have been a deterrent for my parents to stop forcing me into marriage, knowing that they could be imprisoned up to two years."

Victims

The Conservatives say the new laws do not go far enough, and if elected, they would make forced marriage illegal.

Shadow minister for community cohesion Baroness Warsi told BBC News: "The onus to go for a civil protection order is actually on the victim of the forced marriage or somebody close to them.

"I know from speaking to victims of forced marriages that when they're in those circumstances the last thing on their mind, or the last thing that they're able to do, is go to court and seek an order."

Ministers in Scotland are due to launch a consultation on whether civil legislation on forced marriage should be introduced there.

Among those giving their views will be the Scottish Forced Marriage Network, formed in 2005, which includes the police, the Muslim Women's Resource Centre, the NHS and Victim Support Scotland.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband said in a newspaper article on Sunday that the UK's Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) had handled more than 1,500 reports so far this year.

And according to the FMU, 65% of all known cases of the practice in the UK involve people of Pakistani origin.

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SEE ALSO
Success for honour crime helpline
01 Sep 08 |  Cambridgeshire
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13 Dec 07 |  UK Politics

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