The UK government has introduced a new law making forced marriage a criminal offence.
The new law coming into effect in England and Wales today, will also apply to UK nationals overseas who are at risk of becoming the victim of a forced marriage.
Law enforcement agencies will also be able to pursue perpetrators in other countries where a UK national is involved under new powers defined in legislation.
The maximum penalty for the new offence of forced marriage is seven years imprisonment.
Home Secretary Theresa May said: “Forced marriage is a tragedy for each and every victim, and its very nature means that many cases go unreported.
“I am proud to say that the UK is already a world-leader in the fight to stamp out this harmful practice with the government’s Forced Marriage Unit working hard to tackle this terrible practice in the UK and overseas.”
Forced marriage can involve physical, psychological, emotional, financial and sexual abuse including being held unlawfully captive, assaulted and raped.
In 2013, the government’s Forced Marriage Unit gave advice or support related to a possible forced marriage to more than 1300 people.
Crime Prevention Minister Norman Baker said: “Forced marriage is an appalling form of abuse which crosses borders and cultural boundaries. The scale of reported cases is deeply worrying, but this is just the tip of the iceberg.
“Legislation is the next key step in solving this problem and builds on the hard work already being done by the government and third sector organisations to tackle this practice. The message from the coalition government is clear – forced marriage is totally unacceptable and will not be tolerated.”
Aneeta Prem, founder of Freedom charity, which exists to educate young people about forced marriage, said they were delighted that the government had taken action to criminalise forced marriage. “In the most tragic cases, people forced into marriage become domestic slaves by day and sexual slaves by night,” Ms Prem said. ““Today’s announcement sends out a powerful message that this indefensible abuse of human rights will be not be tolerated. Everyone should have the freedom to choose.”
Dr Ash Chand, the NSPCC’s strategy head for minority ethnic children said: “The change in the law to make forced marriage a crime in England and Wales is a huge step forward which we hope will deter those plotting against their own children.
“Many young people who call our ChildLine service about this issue are frightened, concerned and feel control of their lives is being wrenched from them. We have produced an animation that will help allay their fears and encourage them to contact us for help and advice.”