According to an article earlier this month in the Independent, victims of forced marriage are now being forced to wed in more far-flung places than originally thought. The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office dealt with over 1,500 cases of forced marriage last year. Interestingly the victims aged ranged from 5 years to 87 years and over one fifth of the victims were men.
Evidence indicates that there are often several perpetrators in each case and yet very few are actually prosecuted. While it is commonly agreed that forcing a person to marry against their will is an abuse of their human rights, there is some difference of opinion as to whether the government’s plans to make forced marriage a criminal offence is the right decision.
It would certainly be a radical move. To date, victims of forced marriage have been able to seek protection under the Forced Marriage Civil Protection Act. Arguably this has been a successful advance in the law. However, this statute is based upon the principle of protection and not penalty.
Interestingly, it would appear that many welfare professionals and victims are in fact against criminalisation, believing this would force the problem underground and increase the risk of retaliation. Conversely, there is considerable support for the view that criminalisation would act as a deterrent, sending a strong message out that forced marriage will not be tolerated in Britain.
Whatever the greatest public opinion is, one thing is clear: it would cost the government several million (£15m) to criminalise forced marriage and most of this money would be used in training the police. Maybe it would just be better to improve training for welfare professionals and supporting organisations that help victims.