Ministers to outlaw forced marriages

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Immigration rules will be tightened and teachers and social workers advised on spotting child brides in a drive against forced marriages to be launched today. Ministers will also announce that a new criminal offence of compelling people to marry against their will could be created.

Immigration rules will be tightened and teachers and social workers advised on spotting child brides in a drive against forced marriages to be launched today. Ministers will also announce that a new criminal offence of compelling people to marry against their will could be created.

The Foreign Office has helped 1,000 British citizens to break out of forced marriages abroad since 2000, including 300 last year, but officials believe that could be the tip of the iceberg.

Most cases involve girls and young women forced into marriages in Pakistan and Bangladesh, but there have been cases involving India, Africa, the Far East and the United States. There is also a sizeable minority of young men made to marry abroad.

Police warn that forced marriages are linked in some communities with so-called "honour killings", inflicted on women who try to escape them.

Also today, Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, and David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, will raise the minimum age of foreigners coming into the country as spouses of UK nationals from 16 to 18. They are issuing new advice to social workers and teachers to help the victims of forced marriages. Similar guidance will also be supplied to police officers.

The Foreign Office is sending extra staff to Pakistan, where 75 per cent of Britons forced to marry end up, to help track them down and provide them with a route back to Britain.

Most controversially, the Government is proposing making forced marriages a criminal offence. At the moment, prosecutions have to be based on such charges as kidnapping and false imprisonment. Supporters argue it would be a strong deterrent, but opponents fear it could discourage victims from coming forward.

The proposals will be published today to coincide with the Domestic Violence Bill, which ministers argue is designed to rebalance the criminal justice system towards victims.

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