In June 2014, forced marriages in the UK became a criminal offence. In England and Wales, those who force someone into a marriage against their will can serve up to seven years imprisonment, a consequence that applies whether the forced marriage occurs within the UK or not.

As a definition, a forced marriage is where one or both parties are coerced into the marriage through external pressures, whether physical, psychological, sexual, financial or emotional. In a nutshell, forced marriages deprive individuals of their freedom of choice, forcing them into a future against their will.

The Home Secretary, Theresa May, considers forced marriages ‘a tragedy for every victim’ and recognises that a large number of instances go unreported. Nonetheless, in 2013, the Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) supported over 1,300 cases, a large number.

Founder of Freedom charity, Aneeta Prem, sees forced marriage as a form of slavery in which victims are ‘domestic slaves by day and sexual slaves by night’. She hopes that such legal change will emphasise how ‘this indefensible abuse of human rights will not be tolerated’ any longer.

It is important to mention a distinction between an arranged marriage with full consent – a socially acceptable event in many societies – and one brought on by coercion or trickery.

Everyone is at risk of being a victim, no matter their race, age or gender. Statistics from 2013 show that although the majority of victims were female, almost 20% of all cases involved a male victim. Findings also show that forced marriage occurs across the globe, with victims from over 74 countries, 43% relating to Pakistan. Therefore, the law was made to protect Brits all over the world, regardless of whether the forced marriage took place within the UK or not.

Forced marriage, otherwise considered a form of slavery, does not just affect adults. Shocking statistics from the NSPCC show that children as young as 12 called out for help regarding their personal experience of forced marriage. In fact, 15% of all forced marriages involved children.

Previously, the Court was only able to issue Civil Orders to prevent victims being forced into marriage.  However, the recent legal changes have been made to keep Brits protected, encourage victims to speak out and eventually, wipe out forced marriage entirely.

If you have experience of a forced marriage, ensure that you speak out to a professional who can confidential guidance and a safe place to speak out.

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