Parents in England and Wales who force their children to marry will face jail time under newly proposed laws announced by the British government.
The plans to make forced marriage a criminal offence come after officials handled over 2,000 possible cases of people coerced into matrimony since January 2011, the home office said on Friday.
According to a home office consultation on forced marriages, more than half of cases in England and Wales involved women from Pakistan, while cases involving women from Bangladesh and India accounted for another 20 per cent of the total.
About 35 per cent of marriages involved girls under 18 years old, while 13.5 per cent involved girls who were 16 or under.
“Forced marriage is abhorrent and is little more than slavery,” said David Cameron, the British prime minister, said. “To force anyone into marriage against their will is simply wrong and that is why we have taken decisive action to make it illegal.”
The government hopes to introduce the legislation to parliament by 2014, the home office said. The scale of sentences that could be handed out will be detailed in the legislation.
The move came after the consultation which took views from the public, charities and victims. Theresa May, the UK home secretary, described forced marriage as an “appalling practice” in a statement.
Aneeta Prem, the founder of Freedom Charity, a UK-based organisation which campaigns against forced marriages, acknowledged that there might be difficulty in convincing women to come forward.
“But if you look at England, 30 years ago, we had the same argument about domestic violence,” she told Al Jazeera. “When we talk about forced marriage, we’re talking about abuse.”