UK makes forced marriage illegal as pursues campaign of 'British values'
By Belinda Goldsmith
LONDON (Reuters) - Forcing women, men and children into marriage was made a criminal act in Britain on Monday as the government escalated a campaign to promote "British values" of freedom and equality and combat accusations of being too lenient on extremism.
A new law made it a criminal offence to force people into marriage with a maximum jail term of seven years. It also made it a criminal act to force a British national into marriage outside the United Kingdom.
To date British courts have been able to issue civil orders to prevent people from being forced into marriage but this is the first time it has been criminalized.
The toughened stance comes as the government, which faces an election next year, confronts questions about identity in multi-cultural Britain where immigration, particularly from non-Christian societies, has shot up the political agenda to rival the economy among voters' concerns.
Only a handful of countries internationally have criminalized forced marriage, according to a British government consultation paper from 2012, including Germany, Austria, Belgium, Cyprus and Denmark, and Malta.
Home Secretary Theresa May said forced marriage was recognized in the United Kingdom as a form of violence against men and women, as domestic or child abuse, and as a serious abuse of human rights.
"Forced marriage is a tragedy for each and every victim, and its very nature means that many cases go unreported," May said in a statement, adding that Britain would hold its first summit on galvanizing action against forced marriage later this year.