Families who coerce their children into a forced marriage could face up to five years in jail under legislation to be announced by the Prime Minister this week. The new law will criminalise the practice, which occurs in some ethnic communities. Forcing someone into wedlock would become a criminal offence in its own right under the proposals.
Breaching an existing forced marriage civil protection order – which prevents a young person being made to marry against their will – would also be a criminal act, punishable by five years in prison.
The Home Office says the number of forced marriages is increasing and estimates that there are between 5,000 and 8,000 cases in England a year. Most involve families from Afghanistan, North and East Africa, India, Bangladesh, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and Turkey. A source said: ‘The Government wants to be seen to be sending out the message to families within these communities that this kind of thing will not be tolerated any more. ‘The Prime Minister wants to stamp this out and feels that he will have the support of the public behind him.’
Earlier this year a report from the Government’s Forced Marriage Unit revealed that a five-year-old girl had become Britain’s youngest victim of forced marriage. She was just one of 400 children to receive assistance from the unit in 2011. More than a quarter of the 1,500 cases last year involved minors. Every year hundreds of young people are at risk of being taken abroad by their parents to be forced to marry against their will.