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Forced Marriages

Volume 450: debated on Monday 23 October 2006

To ask the Minister for Women and Equality what role she is playing in discussions on new legislation to proscribe forced marriage. (95656)

As a member of the Inter-departmental Ministerial Group on Domestic Violence, I am actively involved in discussions with ministerial colleagues relating to this issue, and we all acknowledge the importance of taking appropriate steps to tackle forced marriage.

A consultation was held from September to December 2005 on whether to create a specific criminal offence of forcing someone into marriage. We have considered fully the pros and cons of a specific offence before deciding whether or not to legislate, and Baroness Scotland announced the Government's decision not to introduce specific legislation on June 7 2006. Respondents feared that legislation would drive the problem further underground and increase the risk of forced marriage victims being taken overseas and held there.

We have not ruled out the possibility of developing new legislation in relation to forced marriage in the future, but believe that a specific offence should only be created if there are gaps in existing legislation which cannot be filled. However, in order to tackle the issue more effectively, several recommendations for non-legislative activity will be taken forward. The Forced Marriage Unit is now pursuing the recommendations for non-legislative measures, including increasing training to professionals and more outreach work, increasing work with statutory agencies to implement guidelines, and making better use of existing legislation, civil remedies and the family courts.

There are many existing criminal offences which may be committed during a forced marriage, such as kidnap, false imprisonment, assault, rape and in some cases murder. The Government support forced marriage victims who choose to make prosecutions and will continue to do so.