Forced marriage will not be criminalised despite PM's former support

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Despite pressure from MPs and the former support of the Prime Minister, the government has ruled out declaring forced marriage a crime.

To protect potential victims of forced marriage, the Home Affairs Select Committee has called for an offence to complement court orders. However, Home Office minister Lynne Featherstone said that it was not on the government's agenda.

Forced marriages

Earlier this year, the Home Affairs committee urged the government to create a new crime, saying that this could help stop people breaching forced marriage protection orders.

Created in 2007, court orders are the government's key legal way to protect potential victims. Such injunctions forbid families from taking people abroad for marriage, seizing passports and intimidation.

Penalties for breaching an order can be up to 2 years' jail.

Since their introduction almost 300 protection orders have been made. But MPs argued that it was not clear whether the legislation was "wholly effective" in protecting individuals.

"The lack of a criminal sanction also sends a message, and currently that is a weaker message than we believe is needed," the MPs said.

Speaking to the BBC Asian Network, Ms Featherstone said: "In terms of criminalisation, that's not on the government's agenda. There have been calls for it from a couple of quarters, but not overall and our judgement at this moment in time is that it would not be helpful.

"We are much more keen on protection, raising awareness and making sure that everyone who may be subjected to a forced marriage knows that they can be protected."

"It's perhaps most important to get protection in place for those who may fall victim to forced marriage and that protection cannot be out in place if people don't come forward."

When in opposition, David Cameron said if the current legislation does not work a future Conservative government would consider criminalising forced marriage.

But in its full response to the committee the Home Office said that it disagreed with the MPs that current legislation had been ineffective.

It said that general criminal offences, including assault and kidnap, covered the actions of people forcing victims into marriage against their will. It added that it would also be difficult to prove a specific crime of forced marriage to a criminal standard of proof.

Emma Pearmaine, head of family law at Simpson Millar LLP, noted that arranged marriages are traditional in many cultures. "However, forced marriages are very different," she said. "In arranged marriages, both families take a leading role in the arrangement but the individuals still make the final choice to consent. In a forced marriage, at least one party does not consent to the marriage, suggesting an element of duress or coercion."

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