Forcing someone into marriage is now a criminal offence in England and Wales though Manchester campaigners worry that the law may deter potential victims from seeking help.
Previously courts have only been able to issue civil orders to prevent victims being forced into marriage.
The new law, which came into force today, will see perpetrators of forced marriages face a maximum seven-year jail sentence under the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014.
Joanne Simpson, Manager of domestic violence helpline Independent Choices Manchester, told MM: “Hopefully the new law will act as a deterrent and perpetrators will be aware of the severe consequences.
“Victims may feel they can call the police out and receive a positive response. General awareness is being raised on forced marriage.
“However there is a risk that the majority of women will be reluctant to involve the police as they may be fearful of repercussions and prosecuting their family members.
“If police are involved, will they have sufficient grounds to proceed – it is often difficult to gather corroborating evidence in these cases.”
Those forced into marriages or often individuals or couples who don’t consent to their marital union and are often put through physical, psychological, financial or emotional pressure to do so.
The new law will also help protect British nationals who are at risk of being forced into marriage in abroad.
Home Secretary Theresa May said: “Forced marriage is a tragedy for each and every victim, and its very nature means that many cases go unreported.
“I am proud to say that the UK is already a world-leader in the fight to stamp out this harmful practice with the Government’s Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) working hard to tackle this terrible practice in the UK and overseas.
“Today’s criminalisation is a further move by this government to ensure victims are protected by the law and that they have the confidence, safety and the freedom to choose.”
The Home Office has said the FMU gave advice or support in a possible forced marriage to more than 1,300 people in 2013.
Aneeta Prem, founder of Freedom charity which educates young people about forced marriage, said: “In the most tragic cases, people forced into marriage become domestic slaves by day and sexual slaves by night.
“Today’s announcement sends out a powerful message that this indefensible abuse of human rights will not be tolerated.”
Independent Choices is a confidential helpline and offers emotional and practical support for women who are experiencing domestic abuse including being in fear of being forced or are forced into marriage.
For more information about their work, click here.
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