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Last Updated: Sunday, 12 March 2006, 23:25 GMT
Forced marriage ban lacks support
Ring being placed on finger
The government has spoken to victims of forced marriages
A consultation exercise by the government suggests opinion is closely divided about whether a new law is needed to ban forced marriages.

A narrow majority of those who responded, including individuals and pressure groups, was against a ban.

Forced marriages - different to arranged marriages, which have the consent of those taking part - are most common in South Asian communities.

There are worries that a ban could be counter-productive.

'Many unreported'

About 300 forced marriages are reported to the authorities every year, though it is believed many more go unreported.

If you were to say 'you will prosecute my mother, my father, my family, then many (victims) wouldn't have the courage to come forward
Home Office minister Baroness Scotland
Forced marriages can involve kidnapping, sexual, physical and mental abuse, and even murder if they are refused.

But there is no specific law to ban them.

Last year the government carried out a three-month consultation exercise to see whether legislation was needed. During the process the government spoke to victims of forced marriages.

One woman, who wished to remain anonymous, was taken to Pakistan and forced to marry when she was 16. She believes a new law is needed.

"I felt like I was being tortured, I felt like I was being punished for something which I hadn't done. I couldn't think of anything I'd done wrong to be punished for, but I still felt I was being punished."

If we're not going to have a criminal offence that sits alone in its own right, what are we going to have?
Jasvinder Sanghera
Women's rights campaigner

Home Office minister Baroness Scotland, who is responsible for the issue, says it is a sensitive matter and she has yet to make up her mind.

"If you talk to a lot of the victims they say that they are quite often in a quandary, because they want the abuse to stop, they don't want to be forced into marriage, but quite often they love their families.

"If you were to say 'you will prosecute my mother, my father, my family', then many of them wouldn't have the courage to come forward.

"Some of them have said 'we would rather kill ourselves'."

Women's rights campaigner Jasvinder Sanghera told the BBC she believed women would come forward if they were aware there was legislation to help them.

"If we're not going to have a criminal offence that sits alone in its own right, what are we going to have and what are we going to do to make the existing offences work?"

The BBC's Barney Choudhury said the government could be distancing itself from proposing a ban because a new law could create as many problems as it solves.

"The big headache for MPs is whether legislation will be workable".

One girl on her experience of a forced marriage

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