Updated: Monday, 6th April 2020 @ 8:41am

David Cameron’s plans to criminalise ‘appalling practice’ of forced marriage supported by Manchester MP

David Cameron’s plans to criminalise ‘appalling practice’ of forced marriage supported by Manchester MP

By Mihaela Ivantcheva

Plans to make the ‘appalling practice’ of forced marriage a criminal offence by government is being supported by a Manchester MP.

Under planned new laws, parents who force their children to marry in England and Wales could face jail. The practice is already illegal in Scotland.

Home Secretary Theresa May has said forced marriage was an ‘appalling practice’ and criminalising it would send ‘a strong message that it will not be tolerated’.

John Leech, MP for Manchester Withington, said: “Forcing someone into marriage in a free and fair society is wrong and the choice should be with the individual.

“I don’t think that the forced marriages can be stamped out all together, but hope that criminalising it can bring about change, helping to change attitudes towards it over time and protecting those whom it affects.”

Proponents of the idea of criminalising forced marriages say that the law will help the police and other authorities deal more effectively with forced marriage cases.

However, campaigners fear that the practice will be pushed underground and victims will be dissuaded from coming forward because they do not want to see their relatives behind bars.

Opponents also warn that the legislation will fail in protecting victims who are sent abroad and forced to marry in countries where the practice is still legal.

They say that currently victims are effectively using the Forced Marriage Protection Order by asking authorities to confiscate their passports.

Mr Cameron said: “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.”

The package will also provide £500,000 fund to help schools and other agencies to spot early signs of a forced marriage over the next three years.

Mr Cameron added: “We have spent time with those who work tirelessly to raise and address this issue and I want to send a clear and strong message: forced marriage is wrong, is illegal and will not be tolerated.”

Mr Leech admitted that he had some experience dealing with forced marriages in his area.

An estimated 8,000 young women a year are forced into marriages. The Home Office reported that the Forced Marriage Unit had provided advice or support in nearly 600 cases this year.  

Around 14% of these cases involved children below the age of 15. Nearly half the cases involved families from Pakistan living in Britain. The rest were families from Bangladesh, India, Afghanistan and Turkey.

Nearly 10% of the cases involve British-born families. The unit helped in 1,468 cases last year including one case involving a five-year-old victim and another involving an 87-year-old.

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