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18 MAY 2011

MPs recommend criminalising forced marriage

Big BenThe Home Affairs Committee has recommended that the government criminalises forced marriage while also maintaining the civil route.

In a report published yesterday, the Committee criticises the lack of progress made by successive Government towards addressing the concerns raised by its predecessor Committee in 2008.

The MPs' recommendation is based on the belief that the criminalisation of forced marriage - which the Conservatives promised to consider while in Opposition - would send a stronger message against the practice.

Chairman of the Committee, Keith Vaz, said: "Forced Marriage is a serious issue that affects some of the most vulnerable individuals in the UK. I am very disappointed that progress on protection and awareness remains slow. I am also concerned that a loss of specialist support services due to spending cuts will stunt further progress.

"We believe that the best way to deter people from forcing individuals into marriage is through criminalising forced marriage. Taking this bold step alongside providing a range of services supporting victims of violence and raising awareness in schools must be a priority for the Government. There should be zero tolerance of this harmful activity that ruins the lives of so many."

However not everyone believes criminalisation is the answer. Dr Clark, senior lecturer at UEA Law School, has done extensive research on forced marriages in the UK, and has also compared the systems used by other countries to tackle the issue. She argues that criminalisation could deter victims from coming forward.

Dr Clark said: "The Committee makes a number of excellent recommendations to combat forced marriage but its conclusion, that criminalisation is the answer to the problems of combating forced marriage, do not seem to be borne out by the research evidence produced for the past three years on forced marriage.

"One of the main arguments against a change in the law is the concern that girls affected by forced marriages will not speak out if there is a possibility that their parents will face criminal sanctions. There is also a fear that the parents could, in reaction, adopt new approaches, such as sending young girls to their country of origin to be married, which would be an additional injustice for victims of forced marriages.

"An increasingly multifaceted, well-funded, trained and sensitive approach is needed to deal with the issue of forced marriage. Civil practice and procedure is a possible tool to shape the ideology of the community without the risk of antagonizing or polarizing such communities. Criminalisation is expensive and not necessarily the answer: time will tell as to whether the criminal route favoured by Belgium, Germany and Norway will be more successful than the civil law approach of France and England."

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