Campaigners are calling for a review of the criminalisation of forced marriage, claiming that the law stops victims from speaking up as they do not want to see their parents end up in jail.
Forced marriage became a criminal offence in 2014, but since then there have only been four convictions across the whole of the UK.
This is despite The Home Office estimating that between 5,000 and 8,000 people in the UK are at risk of being forced into marriage every year.
The Henna Foundation, a charity which works with victims of forced marriage, believes that whilst the legislation sends a strong message it also scares off victims.
In 2018, the forced marriage unit, a joint effort between the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Home Office gave advice or support in 1,196 UK cases.
Shahien Taj of the Henna Foundation said more prevention work was needed to educate perpetrators, who are often the victims’ parents. The charity claims that victims often want to return to the family home once the situation has been resolved.
She said: “I don’t know a single victim that I’ve worked with that has said she’s ok with the police coming down on parents like a tonne of bricks – all too often they don’t want any intervention because of that.”
She then added that forced marriage protection orders should be used as the preferred route, allowing young people to apply to the courts for protection while keeping the family out of the criminal system.
A Home Office spokesman said: “We know that forced marriage is often a hidden crime and so it is essential that victims have the confidence to come forward to get the help they need.
“We are seeking views on whether introducing a mandatory reporting duty might help strengthen protections for victims and ensure more perpetrators are brought to justice.
“The consultation is open to everyone and we are particularly interested in hearing from victims and survivors of forced marriage, and professionals with expertise in the issue of forced marriage.”
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