Scotland criminalises forced marriages

In November, Scotland took a bold step towards eradicating forced marriages. Under new legislation, anyone found to be coercing individuals to marry will face criminal charges. The Forced Marriage Act empowers courts to issue protection orders that are specifically tailored to those at risk, providing increased protection for victims. A breach of these orders is a criminal offence and will result in a fi ne or up to two years imprisonment. The law also strengthens existing powers to annul forced marriages. Some critics of the Act say the law is pointless unless effective education and awareness programmes are also established to tackle the problem in the long run.

According to the UK’s Forced Marriage Unit, there are 250-300 documented cases of forced marriages every year in the country, many of which go unreported because victims are hesitant to seek help due to fears of retribution. Lawmakers in Scotland have acknowledged the cultural sensitivities surrounding this issue, with the aim of reducing the instances of violent retribution and honour killings that are sometimes motivated by a victim’s refusal to enter into marriage. The legislation allows those facing the prospect of forced marriage to seek legal protection without criminalising members of their family.

Since 2008, England, Wales and Northern Ireland have been able to issue civil orders to prevent marriages or protect victims; a breach of which could be classified as contempt of court and result in a prison sentence. England plans to consult on criminalising forced marriages but has faced opposition to a stronger stance in the past.


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