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Forced marriages should be criminalised, MPs say

17 May 2011

The Commons home affairs select committee has called on the government to make forcing people to marry against their will a criminal offence.

Under the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007, courts may make orders to stop marriages happening and those who break them could be arrested for contempt of court.

However, it was not until earlier this year that the first person was jailed for breaching an order, Lydia Erhire from Nigeria (see, 15 February 2011). Since the Act was implemented in November 2008, MPs said 293 forced marriage protection orders had been made.

The select committee, chaired by Labour MP Keith Vaz, said the Act should continue to be used but it would send out a “very clear and positive message” if it became a criminal act to force individuals to enter a marriage against their will.

“The lack of a criminal sanction also sends a message, and currently that is a weaker message than we believe is needed. We urge the government to take an early opportunity to legislate on this matter.”

The committee said it was also concerned by the low level of awareness of the Act among frontline professionals and looked forward to receiving a copy of a review of the legislation being carried out by the Forced Marriages Unit.

Karma Nirvana, which helps the victims of forced marriages, told the committee that 70 per cent of professionals attending its road shows had not heard of the Act.

Cris McCurley, head of the family department at Ben Hoare Bell in Newcastle, also gave evidence to the committee.

She said involvement in forcing someone to marry should be a criminal offence.

“Victims should have the choice whether to report it to the police or to go to the courts for a civil order,” McCurley said. “These young people have had the most basic choices taken away from them and here we are doing it again. A huge wrong has been committed against them for which there is no criminal redress.”

McCurley said one of the arguments put forward before the Act was passed was that criminalising forced marriages would make BME communities feel victimised.

“I cannot think this would happen with any other type of crime,” she said.

McCurley added that if forcing people to marry was made criminal, victims could make applications to the criminal injuries compensation fund.

Categorised in:

Discrimination Marriage & Civil partnership