It is the time of year when schools in the UK are breaking up for their long summer holidays, and it is the time of year when some young girls find themselves on holiday in Pakistan with their families who have plans for them beyond a happy break from their studies. Forced marriage has long been recognised as a problem in the UK, and the UK government has now brought into law a ban on forced marriage as of June 16, 2014. Anybody convicted of forcing another person into a marriage against their will now face a prison sentence of up to seven years. The law is not only applicable within the UK, it also relates to any British national who is forced into a marriage abroad, no matter what the country, faith or culture.
The British government has a long-established Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) — there is a busy branch office at the British High Commission in Islamabad — and nearly two-thirds of the cases referred to the FMU have their origins in South Asian countries, and 43 per cent of those were linked to Pakistan. A total of 73 countries worldwide have nationals that have come to the attention of the FMU, but by far the largest proportion come from Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. The issue has gained in prominence in the UK over the last decade, and campaigners for the rights of women and girls have welcomed the new law. British Home Secretary Theresa May has said that forced marriage is a tragedy for every victim, and British Prime Minister David Cameron has likened it to a modern form of slavery.
Few community leaders in the UK are willing to speak against the tradition, the power of culture is so great. But an increasing number of young women are referring themselves to the FMU, fearful of what their parents and other relatives have in store for them. We welcome the legislation and await the first prosecutions with considerable interest.