A new campaign to raise awareness of forced marriage and new legal restrictions on the practice being launched in West Yorkshire has been welcomed by a Bradford lawyer who deals with its victims.

The law changes from June 16 and means those found guilty of instigating forced marriage will face punishment of up to seven years in prison.

West Yorkshire Police and other agencies involved in tackling the problem have now launched their campaign to raise awareness of the issue, with publicity material on the ‘right to choose’.

The force’s Assistant Chief Constable John Robins has urged people not to suffer in silence: “Forced marriage is a crime where one or both spouses do not, or cannot, consent to the marriage and duress is involved. This can include physical, psychological, financial, sexual and emotional pressure.

“But let me make it really clear that this is not the same as an ‘arranged marriage’ which is a totally legal practice and involves the consent of both spouses.”

Forced marriage is not associated with any one culture or belief. Most of the cases referred to West Yorkshire Police involve victims in the 13 to 30 age group and while most are female, some are male.

“Someone forced to marry may find it very difficult to take action to prevent it happening or initiate action to end a forced marriage.

“We will be taking a ‘victim-led approach’ in delivering the new Forced Marriage legislation. This will respect the views of victims, provide the necessary support, confidentiality and protection from harm.

“Our campaign aims to raise awareness of the issues surrounding forced marriage, including the indicators of this crime and the potential consequences for perpetrators. It is also designed to prevent forced marriage in the first place, empowering victims and prompting enforcement activity.”

Jamil Ismail, a solicitor with Petherbridge Bassra, said: “It is important there are stiff penalties for crimes which ruin people’s lives. It can only be a good thing.”

However, he added: “The legal change is good, but hopefully people will alter their thinking. The law treats the problem, but we want to cure the problem.

“A lot of this has to come through education.”

He said the effects of forced marriage not only affected the immediate parties, but their wider families and sometimes even those who had instigated the marriage, when things later went wrong.

A forced marriage page is on the police website at westyorkshire.police. uk/forcedmarriage.