New forced marriage law welcomed by campaigners

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Schoolgirls  walking home from school. Schoolgirls walking home from school.

THE Police and Crime Commissioner for West Yorkshire is urging victims of forced marriage, often too terrified to speak out because of fear of the consequences, to feel reassured that they will be protected after this morning's introduction of new legislation.

From today, those found guilty of forced marriage could face up to seven years imprisonment.

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.

Breaching a Forced Marriage Protection Order, which aims to protect those identified as in danger of being forced into a marriage, is also now a crime.

PCC Mark Burns-Williamson said: “A forced marriage is recognised in the UK as a form of violence, and a serious abuse of human rights.

“It can condemn people to a life of untold misery and I am pleased we have even stronger laws now to ensure victims are kept safe and have a prospect of a life without fear.

“From today victims have more protection. But as with all honour based crimes, there is a real issue around crime recording and not all victims want to tell the police, while others may not want to be a witness in a criminal prosecution."

One victim was Bradford teenager Shafilea Ahmed. The 17-year-old from Girlington died in 2003 after enduring years of honour-based violence, including an attempted forced marriage.

Her parents drugged her, flew her to Pakistan, and later suffocated her in front of her siblings. Her parents were convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Shafilea's birthday, July 14, has been suggested as a national annual memorial day for victims of honour killings, with an online petition currently has more than 97,000 signatures in support of this move.

Her sister Mevish told her best friend Shahin Munir about Shafilea's killing and Shahin gave evidence in the trial.

Speaking on the new legislation, Shahin said: "It's a big thing, it's a long time coming as well.

"It's about time something was done about it.

"The new legislation sends out a very powerful message, not just to people but to family members. It gives victims the hope that it is going to be tackled and taken seriously.

"It says, 'what we turned a blind eye to before, will not be tolerated now', people will go to prison for it.

"It will save other people's lives. It's an important change. It was extremely difficult going forward with the court case. Two people were going to jail for life. It was the right thing to do to stick up for a girl that had everything taken away from her.

"Shafilea's case made people realise and gave people awareness of what was going on with honour killings."

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