Forced Marriage Is Now a Criminal Act


Everybody is aware that forced marriage is one of the most horrendous things to happen to a man or woman – despite this being common knowledge, it has been an "elephant in the room" when it comes to the law. It can lead to years of emotional and physical abuse, often with the victims never having the strength or resources to fight back. But from 16th June, forced marriage will be a crime with a maximum sentence of 7 years.

Forced Marriage

Have the #Freedom2Choose

Starting from this week, forcing someone to marry against their will, will be a crime in England and Wales. These powers will also extend to UK Nationals overseas who try to force a marriage on to an unwilling participant.

Currently, those who are at risk of a forced marriage, or those already in one, can apply for a Forced Marriage Protection Order (FMPO). These Orders can take a very flexible approach and are made by the family courts. Following the introduction of the new law, breaching one of these Orders now carries a sentence of up to 5 years in prison or an unlimited fine – in some cases, both a fine and a prison sentence may be given. Previously, a breach of one of these Orders was not a criminal offence.

Aneeta Prem, founder of the Freedom charity and long-term forced marriage advocate expressed her delight at the news that the government were criminalising forced marriage. The Freedom charity worked alongside Home Secretary Theresa May, the police, victims of forced marriage and the Crown Prosecution Service to release an online video for the #Freedom2Choose campaign about why forced marriage has been criminalised. Aneeta Prem said, "people forced into marriage become domestic slaves by day and sexual slaves by night". A strong comment detailing the plight of those forced into marrying against their choice.

Both Men and Women Affected by Forced Marriage

The lives of these victims will often involve the categorical signs of domestic violence prior to them entering the marriage and afterwards. Financial, physical, emotional and psychological pressures are often applied to force the marriage or to force one or both parties to stay in the marriage. Out of the cases dealt with by the Government's Forced Marriage Unit (FMU), 82% of cases involved females and 18% involved men. This is similar to that of domestic violence in which 1.2 million women and 700,000 men were affected by it in 2012/2013 in England and Wales. In both cases, more women are affected than men, but this doesn't mean the consequences are not just as disturbing on both sides.

The majority of domestic violence occurs between partners, but the definition of domestic abuse includes "family members". Controlling and coercive behaviour were also added to the definition in February 2013, in a move to expand on the situations in which domestic abuse or violence may occur. In some of the most extreme cases, domestic abuse and forced marriage can lead to rape and even murder – devastating the lives of the victims.

Getting Help

If you have been a victim of forced marriage, you think you are at risk, or the tell-tale signs of domestic abuse are there, don't hesitate to contact a solicitor to put legal safeguards in place to protect yourself. It's a big step, but there are many charities and organisations that can give you emotional support. The law is there to help you. Legal Aid is available for FMPO's and for Domestic Violence Orders (NonMolestation and Occupation Orders).

A step in the right direction today could make all the difference tomorrow. The future may seem bleak now, but with the change in the law, forced marriages may soon become a thing of the past.

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