Forced Marriage, whereby individuals to not wish to get married but are made to do so by others, is a significant problem in the UK. Men and women are often blackmailed, deceived or even threatened with violence in order to make them marry unwillingly and such pressure is often exerted by their own family members. The problem affects hundreds of young people in the UK each year and there are now calls for improved legislation to prevent this.
Forced marriages should not be confused with arranged marriages. Arranged marriages offer both the bride and groom a choice in whether or not they marry the person selected for them. No such free will can be exercised in the case of a forced marriage and men, women and children from any faith or background can be affected.
Whilst a forced marriage may involve people from any background or country of origin, it is most common amongst those of Pakistani origin. There were over 1000 reports of suspected forced marriages considered by the Forced Marriage Unit in the first 8 months of 2009, 25% more than in 2008. Alarmingly, 2 in every 5 forced marriages involved under-18s. Unfortunately, many victims are too fearful to report their case so the true extent of forced marriages is a not known.
FORCED MARRIAGE AND THE LAW
The Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act of 2007 was passed in order to prevent forced marriages. This provided courts in England, Wales and Northern Ireland with the power to impose Forced Marriage Protection Orders, preventing people from compelling others to marry. The courts can also help to provide and exit route for those who have already entered a forced marriage.
However, although someone who is found guilty of forcing someone to marry can face up to a two year jail term; the relevant law is currently civil rather than criminal.
It is expected that a new package of proposals for tackling forced marriage drafted by the coalition will be deliberated in parliament in 2013. Under the proposals, forced marriage will be made a criminal offence in England and Wales with the current civil deterrents working in conjunction with criminal penalties.
Of particular concern is criminalising the breach of Forced Marriage Protection Orders in order to prevent people being sent overseas to marry against their will.
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