16 June 2014
Last updated at 00:01
Campaigners have hailed a law coming into effect in England and Wales making it a criminal offence to force people into marriage as “a huge step forward”.
Since 2008, courts have been able to issue civil orders to prevent victims being forced into marriage.
However, the new law makes forced marriage a criminal offence for the first time – punishable by up to seven years in prison.
Ministers say it will protect thousands of potential victims each year.
It will apply to people forced into marriage in England and Wales, as well as UK nationals who are at risk of being forced into marriage abroad.
Some 82% of victims were female and 18% male while 15% were under the age of 15.
The cases involved 74 different countries with 43% relating to Pakistan, 11% to India an 10% to Bangladesh.
Home Secretary Theresa May said the practice was “a tragedy for each and every victim”.
She said Monday’s criminalisation – under the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 – was “a further move by this government to ensure victims are protected by the law and that they have the confidence, safety and the freedom to choose”.
Under the new law, breaching a forced marriage protection order – which can be issued by civil courts to prevent people being married against their will – has also been criminalised.
It now carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
The Home Office says a forced marriage “is one in which one or both spouses do not consent to the marriage but are coerced into it” by means including “physical, psychological, financial, sexual and emotional pressure”.
It says that, “in the cases of vulnerable adults who lack the capacity to consent to marriage, coercion is not required for a marriage to be forced”.
Last week, it emerged that the number of children who rang ChildLine worried they could be forced into marriage had nearly trebled in the last three years.
Dr Ash Chand, from the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, said: “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.”
He hailed the law as a “huge step forward”.
Aneeta Prem, founder of Freedom Charity, which educates young people about forced marriage, said the law sent out a “powerful message that this indefensible abuse of human rights will be not be tolerated”.
“In the most tragic cases, people forced into marriage become domestic slaves by day and sexual slaves by night,” she said.
The new law will be introduced in Scotland at a later date after MSPs voted for legislation in January.
It will not apply to Northern Ireland but ministers there will be able to introduce their own legislation, the Home Office said.
Jasvinder Sanghera, the founder of the charity Karma Nirvana which supports victims of forced marriages and honour crimes, said she was “extremely pleased it’s finally here”.
Ms Sanghera, a victim of forced marriage herself, told BBC Radio 4’s Sunday programme: “I was 14 years old when my mother sat me down and presented me with a photograph of the man I was to learn I was promised to from the age of eight.”
She had said to her mother “No, I’m not marrying this man, I want to do my exams, dare I say go on to further education”, she added.
“My mother was a god-fearing Sikh woman, she also said it was part of my religion, part of my tradition to have to do this.
“Saying no meant my family took me out of education when I was 15-and-a-half and I was held a prisoner in my own home until I agreed to the marriage.
“I agreed, purely to plan my escape, and I ran away from home when I was 16 years old.”