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Forcing any British national to marry against his or her will has been made a criminal offence in Britain under a new law that has come into effect from Monday. It carries a maximum punishment of seven years in jail.
The legislation not only applies within England and Wales but also makes it a criminal offence to force a British national into a marriage abroad, as many youngsters are flown out to weddings in countries where they have roots, particularly Pakistan, India and Bangladesh.
Faced with increasing cases of forced marriages involving British citizens mainly of south Asian origin – including of Indian origin – the David Cameron government has made this a criminal offence under the repealed Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act, 2014.
As campaigners welcomed the law coming into force, official sources said the Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) of the Foreign Office deals with over 1,000 cases every year involving sometimes unsuspecting British citizens (many of them minors) being taken to countries of origin on the pretext of holiday or family visits, and forcing them to marry there against their will.
Of the 1302 cases FMU handled last year, 10.9 per cent involved India, while the highest were in relation to Pakistan (42.7 per cent). Overall, the forced marriage cases involved 74 countries. There are also reports of families hiring gangs to locate and kill those who refuse to enter forced marriages.
According to the Home Office, “a forced marriage is where one or both people do not (or in cases of people with learning disabilities, cannot) consent to the marriage and pressure or abuse is used”.
It adds: “The pressure put on people to marry against their will can be physical (including threats, actual physical violence and sexual violence) or emotional and psychological”.
Several campaign groups have been working to help victims of forced marriages. Jasvinder Sanghera, founder of specialist agency Karma Nirvana, welcomed the criminalisation of such marriages. Home secretary Theresa May said forced marriage was “a tragedy for each and every victim”, and added that the new legal provision was "a further move by the government to ensure victims are protected by the law."