Laws to prevent forced marriages and protect those who have already fallen victim have been introduced in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The laws mean anyone convicted of trying to force someone into marriage could be jailed for up to two years.
A victim, friend or police can apply for a Forced Marriage Protection Order. These court injunctions will forbid families from actions such as taking people abroad for marriage, seizing passports or intimidating victims.
People are split over the law – not just Asians generally but the women’s groups themselves. Some like Karma Nirvana want a specific law against forced marriage that makes it a criminal offence (something the Tories propose to do). Others like Southall Black Sisters, who drafted this bill with Lord Lester, wanted to skirt around it so that victims don’t feel that their parents will be put into prison.
To be honest, I think the second situation is more confusing than the first. We’ll have to wait and see if this symbolic piece of legislation has any real impact. Otherwise I bet the voices calling for full criminalisation will get louder. And just to make it clear: forced marriage isn’t itself legal, but the police have to use other laws (kidnapping, coercion etc) to charge someone rather than charging them and the family straight for forcing someone into a marriage. I’m in favour of this act, but I do want it to go further.
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