New forced marriage law comes into effect in Scotland

media captionOne woman tells her story of how she managed to escape being made to marry against her will

A new law protecting people from being married against their will has come into effect in Scotland.

The legislation gives courts the power to issue protection orders to those at risk, which if breached could carry a two-year prison sentence.

Greater help will also be made available for victims of forced marriages, and existing powers to annul such unions have been strengthened.

In England, there are plans to consult on criminalising forced marriage.

However, since 2008, the courts in England, Wales and Northern Ireland have been able to issue civil orders to prevent forced marriage or protect victims.

This is an order in a civil court but its breach is punishable with a two-year jail sentence under contempt of court.

In a speech last month, Prime Minister David Cameron said the UK government was to consult on making it a criminal offence in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to force a person to marry against their will.

In the past, this has been rejected by the UK and Scottish governments because some people fear it could deter victims from coming forward to report family members.

The Forced Marriage (Protection and Jurisdiction) (Scotland) Act 2011, passed by the Scottish Parliament in March, goes further than the rest of the UK.

Courts can issue protection orders specifically tailored to a victim's needs, for example by ensuring they are taken to a place of safety or by helping those in danger of being taken abroad for marriage.

Breaching such an order is a criminal offence, punishable by a fine, a two-year prison sentence or both.

Scotland's Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said people should have the right to enter into marriage or a civil partnership "freely without coercion".

She said: "We know people who refuse are often subjected to threats, assault, captivity or worse at the hands of their own family.

"The introduction of this legislation will help us ensure that forced marriage has no place in 21st Century Scotland, by providing flexible legal support to allow victims to get their lives back on track."

Smina Akhtar, director of Amina, the Muslim Women's Resource Centre in Glasgow, said forced marriage was not acceptable within any major religion.

"This law will mean that victims of forced marriage will no longer be alone and have to suffer in silence," she said.

"By passing this law the Scottish government has given a voice to a silent minority and a lifeline to many young people who until now have had nowhere to turn for help and support."

The Law Society of Scotland welcomed the legislation but said it must be accompanied by education to make sure forced marriage is reduced in the long-term.

John Fotheringham, vice convener of the society's family law committee, said: "A proactive approach of educating potential perpetrators, potential victims and also those who may be in a position to spot the danger signs on behalf of that victim, will be crucial in efforts to prevent it."

Anyone worried about someone's welfare, including local authorities, can apply for a protection order.

Urgent interim orders can be made where, for example, a person is in immediate danger or at risk of being taken abroad.

Those concerned about a forced marriage are urged to contact the Domestic Abuse Helpline on 0800 0271234 where calls will be dealt with confidentially.

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