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A forced marriage has been defined as one conducted without the valid consent of both people, where pressure or abuse is used. Although in the Western world, forced marriage is sometimes discussed as a religious practice, no major world faith condones it. It must be distinguished from an arranged marriage, where both parties fully and freely consent to the marriage, although their families take a leading role in the choice of partner.

The Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007 came into force on 25 November 2008. The aim of the Act is to provide civil remedies for those faced with forced marriage, and victims of forced marriage. Under the Act, victims may apply to the court for a Forced Marriage Protection Order (FMPO). A relevant third party, such as a local authority, may also apply on behalf of the victim for an FMPO. Breach of an order is treated as a contempt of court.

At present, forced marriage in England and Wales is not a specific criminal offence. The Home Affairs Committee looked into the issue in 2008 and 2011, and their most recent report urged the Government to legislate to criminalise forced marriage. The Prime Minister stated in October 2011 that the Government would criminalise breach of FMPOs (as has been done in Scotland) and that it would consult on criminalising forced marriage itself.

Following the Government’s consultation, on 8 June 2012, the Prime Minister announced that the Government had decided to make Forced Marriage a criminal offence. The Home Office published a summary of consultation responses the same day, which showed a majority of respondents favouring criminalisation of forced marriage, although a substantial minority disagreed. The new offence was included in the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 in Part 10. These make forced marriage and the breach of a Forced Marriage Order criminal offences..A guide for Members of Parliament dealing with cases of forced marriage, Forced Marriage Case Handling Guide for MPs and Constituency Officers, is on the GOV.UK website.

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