Parents who coerce their children to marry will face jail under moves to be set out tomorrow by David Cameron.
The Prime Minister will announce that forced marriage will be made a criminal offence following reports that up to 8,000 Britons are made to marry against their consent every year. He has previously described the practice – which can include kidnapping, beatings and rape – as "little more than slavery" and "completely wrong".
Most cases of forced marriage involve families from southern Asia, including Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. Among them are hundreds of girls below the age of 16 who are taken abroad to be coerced into marriage.
The Government's forced-marriage unit – which dealt with 1,500 cases last year – has revealed that a five-year-old girl was one of 400 children it helped. One in five victims was male.
The Government is already committed to criminalising breaches of forced-marriage protection orders, which are criminal injunctions and carry jail terms of up to two years for contempt of court. But ministers have decided to go further and draw up a new criminal offence for England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The offence will carry a prison sentence, but the maximum term has not yet been decided.
During consultation on the move, concerns were expressed that criminalising forced marriage altogether could deter victims from coming forward to police.
In October, Mr Cameron announced the consultation in which Theresa May, the Home Secretary, was asked to consult on the criminalisation move and investigate ways to "make sure that such a step would not prevent or hinder [victims] from reporting what has happened to them".
The Prime Minister added that people should not "shy away" from tackling the subject because of "cultural concerns". Tory sources have accused previous Labour governments of ducking the issue.
France, Germany, Belgium, Norway and Denmark have all now introduced specific laws making forced marriage a criminal offence.
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