Home Office plans to criminalise forced marriage may silence victims even more

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Victims of forced marriages in the Asian community have spoken out against Home Office proposals to make the practice a criminal offence.

family law

Forced marriage refuge the Ashiana Network asked all 20 of its residents across three refuges what they thought of the Home Office proposals to criminalise forced marriages, and found that the women felt that speaking out against parents to the police – and possibly seeing family face charges – might deter victims from seeking help.

The authorities have acknowledged that more training is needed for agencies dealing with forced marriages in the UK.

The Home Office has now completed a consultation into criminalising forced marriages in the UK – but women affected by the practice have voiced a range of fears, including being ostracised by their community if they seek help, or being subjected to even more violence from families.

The family courts offer protection to women who seek help against being forced into marriage – but many want reassurance that their families will not be prosecuted if they make a formal statement to the police.

If forced marriages were criminalised, meeting such a condition would not be possible – but this in turn might lead to more under-reporting of women who face violence and abuse in forced marriages.

The government has estimated that between 5,000 and 8,000 forced marriages take place in the UK every year, but only around 1,500 of these may be reported to the Forced Marriage Unit.

The Home Office Forced Marriage Unit dealt with 400 involving children cases in 2011 – including that of a five-year-old girl forced into marriage.

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