PM to announce whether forcing someone to marry should be outlawed amid speculation it could carry jail term.
An announcement is to be made this week by David Cameron on whether forcing someone to marry should be outlawed amid speculation that it is to become a criminal offence carrying a maximum five-year prison sentence.
But his declaration was met with concerns among those who work with the victims of forced marriage that such as step could actually deter the young women involved from disclosing the nature of the abuse and coercion they have suffered at the hands of their own families.
A Home Office consultation, was launched last October at Cameron’s request, to try to «make sure that such a step would not prevent or hinder them from reporting what has happened to them». The consultation closed in March and the prime minister is to announce this Friday the outcome with the home secretary, Theresa May.
Since March a finely balanced argument has raged in Whitehall over whether it is possible to define and enforce a new criminal offence that would depend upon young women being prepared to provide the evidence that could send their own parents to prison. Those who work in the field also fear that families would find a way around such a law by taking the potential victim abroad.
The government is already committed to introducing criminal penalties for those who breach existing forced marriage prevention orders. These orders prevent a young person being made to marry against their will.
The Home Office says the number of forced marriages is increasing with estimates of as many as 5,000 to 8,000 cases a year. The government’s forced marriage unit revealed earlier this year that a five-year-old girl had become Britain’s youngest victim and was one of 400 children to be helped by the unit last year. Many cases involve families from Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and east Africa.
A recent study by Dr Aisha Gill of Roehampton University which looked at the views of 74 organisations and community groups involved in supporting victims of forced marriages showed little appetite for the new offence. They preferred to see investment in prevention, protection of victims and the provision of support services.
The Home Office has traditionally been opposed to the idea arguing that the existing laws on human trafficking, kidnapping and abduction are more than enough to deal with the problem.
But the prime minister has backed the move making clear that he thinks the public, especially women, will support criminalisation. A leaked Downing Street email last summer also said it could help boost the coalition’s flagging appeal to women voters. It said the principal reason for making the announcement was that the «signal sent out by opting not to criminalise is a bad one».