LONDON: Britain’s government on Friday announced plans to make forced marriage a criminal offence, with parents who coerce their children into marrying to face “very tough punishments”.
Prime Minister David Cameron said forced marriage had been tolerated as a cultural practice in Britain’s Asian community for too long and was “little short of slavery”.
“For too long in this country we have thought ‘well, it’s a cultural practice and we just have to run with it’,” he said. “We don’t. It’s a crime.”
“You are taking 15, 16-year-old British citizens, taking them off to another country against their will, marrying them with someone against their will.”
“It is an absolutely abhorrent practice,” he added. “It is, frankly, little short of slavery.”
“If you commit that sort of offence you’ll get a very, very tough punishment.”
The government’s Forced Marriage Unit said 46 per cent of the nearly 600 cases of forced marriage it dealt with between January and May this year involved Pakistani nationals.
Some 45 per cent of the victims were younger than 18, the agency said, and 87 per cent of the victims were female.
Forcing someone into a marriage will become a criminal offence in England and Wales, with the maximum sentence to be set out in a new law.
The legislation will distinguish between forced marriage and arranged marriage, in which both bride and groom consent to the union.
Scotland had passed a similar law in November introducing a maximum two-year jail sentence for forced marriage.
Campaigners have warned that criminalising the practice could discourage victims from coming forward because they do not want their relatives to face jail.
In response to these concerns, the government has announced extra funding of £500,000 ($771,000, 619,000 euros) to help identify and support victims.
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