Britain has initiated a concerted effort to stem the number of forced marriages in that country. A new law – the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007– will come into force there next month. A “forced marriage” is one in which a party is married without his or her consent or against his or her will. It is still practiced in South Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, as well as within migrant communities from such areas in Europe and the United States. Most involuntary spouses are women.
The British law allows civil courts to issue restraining orders – known as forced marriage orders -- to stop forced marriages from occurring and to protect victims. The subject of an order can include any person who aids, abets or encourages the forced marriage. Interested third parties, such as counselors or teachers, may apply themselves for court permission to intervene on behalf of victims who are too fearful to seek help on their own.
The orders can contain such provisions as a court finds appropriate to prevent a forced marriage or to protect a victim of forced marriage from its effects, and may include confiscation of passports or restrictions on contact with the victim.
A marriage can be considered forced not merely on the grounds of threats of physical violence to the victim, but also through threats of physical violence to third parties (e.g. the victim's family), or even self-violence (e.g. marriage procured through threat of suicide.)
The British law does not criminalize forced marriage, because of the fear that victims—even those subjected to the worst abuse—would be unwilling to see their parents prosecuted. However, a person who violates a forced marriage order is subject to contempt of court and may be arrested.
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