New legislation to protect victims of forced marriage and prevent others from the same fate comes into force today.
The Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007 will enable courts to prevent forced marriages and order those responsible for forcing another into marriage to change their behaviour or face jail. It also provides recourse for those already forced into marriage.
Justice Minister Bridget Prentice said: This new law is a powerful tool that will help ensure that no-one is forced into marriage against their will and those already in such marriages will receive protection.
"It is fitting that the law comes into force on White Ribbon Day; the ribbon is a symbol of hope and challenges the acceptability of domestic violence.
"Our policies reinforce that hope and send a clear message that we are committed to providing support and help to victims and that violence of any kind will not be tolerated."
Under the Act, a Forced Marriage Protection Order will contain terms that are designed to protect the victim in their particular circumstances. Failure to comply with an order could lead to imprisonment.
Examples of the types of orders the court may make to prevent a forced marriage from occurring are: to hand over passports; to stop intimidation and violence; to reveal the whereabouts of a person, and; to stop someone from being taken abroad.
The Act is the result of collaboration between the Home Office and Foreign Office to form a joint 'Forced Marriage Unit'.
Shaminder Ubhi, Director of the Ashiana Network said: "We very much hope that the Forced Marriage Act will be of value to those at risk of forced marriage; the measures have been put in place to enable people to seek protection through court orders and we hope this will help prevent forced marriages and assist those already forced into marriages. Understandably, not all people will want to seek legal redress but certainly this Act sends a clear message that forced marriage will not be tolerated and perpetrators will be held accountable".
Importantly, the Act gives the courts discretion to deal flexibly and sensitively with the circumstances of each individual case. It employs civil remedies that offer protection to victims without criminalising members of their family.
Following public consultation, the Government is also publishing today statutory guidance setting out the strategic responsibilities of agencies in England and Wales who may be involved with handling cases of forced marriage.
The statutory guidance is designed for agencies such as the police, education professionals and health and social workers and will pull together existing guidelines on how to recognise and handle cases of forced marriage.