Forcing someone to marry will become a criminal offence in England and Wales, Prime Minister David Cameron announced on Friday. "Forced marriage is abhorrent and is little more than slavery. To force anyone into marriage against their will is simply wrong and that is why we have taken decisive action to make it illegal," he said.
The announcement of the intention to introduce legislation is "light on detail" but it is expected that the existing civil remedy of forced marriage protection orders will continue to exist alongside the new criminal offence, according to a report in the newspaper 'The Guardian'.
"We know that legislation alone is not enough and we will continue to work across government and with frontline agencies and organisations to support and protect victims," said home secretary Theresa May in a statement issued by the government.
As part of measures at present, the UK runs a cross-departmental Forced Marriage Unit that has a helpline providing confidential support and advice to victims and professionals. It conducts a nationwide outreach programme in schools and statutory agencies across the UK.
This year alone (January to May 2012), the Forced Marriage Unit has provided advice or support to nearly 600 cases, as per the government. Around 14% of the 600 cases involved children below the age of 15.
Nearly half the cases involved families living in Britain from Pakistan; others involved families from Bangladesh, India, Afghanistan and Turkey, said the newspaper report.
The unit helped in 1,468 cases last year, including one case involving a five-year-old victim and another involving an 87-year-old.
The government announced that it would invest more than half a million pounds over the next three years to initiate further preventive measures and also signed up to the Council of Europe's convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (CAHVIO).