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Forcing someone to marry will become a criminal offence in England and Wales, the Prime Minister announced today.
The decision to create a specific offence of forced marriage follows a 12 week consultation which took views from the public, victims, charities and frontline agencies. The new law will be accompanied by a range of measures to increase protection and support for victims and a continuing focus on prevention.
Government research has estimated that there are between 5,000 and 8,000 cases a year in this country and in 2010 1,735 victims contacted the Forced Marriage Unit. By February 2011, there had been 293 Forced Marriage Protection Orders made by the civil courts since November 2008 when a specific civil law was introduced.
In 2009 the government introduced Forced Marriage Protection Orders to protect those at risk of forced marriage. The orders gave local authorities the powers to seek a protection for vulnerable adults and children without first having to seek leave of the court.
Grant Howell, Partner, Collaborative Lawyer & Family Law Arbitrator at Charles Russell LLP commented: "There are already eleven separate criminal offences that may be committed in such a case and it is interesting that those working with victims question the helpfulness of taking this further step. Concentrating on providing education to those at risk and giving additional resources to those helping the victims should be the focus."
David Cameron says he has spent time listening to those working on the issue: "Forced marriage is abhorrent and is little more than slavery. To force anyone into marriage against their will is simply wrong and that is why we have taken decisive action to make it illegal.
"I have listened to concerns that criminalisation could force this most distressing issue underground. That is why we have a new comprehensive package to identify possible victims, support those who have suffered first hand and, indeed, prevent criminality wherever possible."