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Forced marriage now criminal offence.
The Scottish Parliament has voted overwhelmingly to make forced marriage a criminal offence in Scotland, following a debate in the Parliament recently (Wednesday 22nd January).
MSPs discussed plans, proposed via a Legislative Consent Motion (LCM), which sees Scotland adopt planned UK-wide legislation.
Scottish courts already have the power to issue Forced Marriage Protection Orders, which offer protection for both men and women who are affected by forced marriage.
This legislation was the first in the UK to make it a criminal offence to breach an Order, leading to a two year prison sentence, a fine, or both.
The UK-wide plans build on this existing legislation, making it a specific criminal offence to force someone into marriage.
Minister for Equalities Shona Robison said this new legislation gives greater protection against forced marriage.
Speaking at the debate, Ms Robison said:
“Forcing someone to marry against their will is an abuse of their human rights. It disenfranchises victims by removing from them the opportunities which should rightly be available to all.
“Criminalising forced marriage sends the strongest possible message that we will not tolerate this behaviour in Scotland. That is a message that I want potential perpetrators to hear loud and clear, as well as victims. I would hope that the knowledge that perpetrators would be risking seven years in prison would act as a deterrent, in at least some cases.”
The Minister acknowledged that using the LCM to criminalisation of forced marriage has been controversial but she believed necessary to make Scotland compliant with the Istanbul Convention which the UK Government signed up to.
Ms Robison added:
“When the UK Government became a signatory to the Istanbul Convention on Tackling Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence. Article 37 of that Convention requires forced marriage to be a criminal offence. It is our view that existing criminal offences in Scotland are not adequate to meet the requirements of Article 37, and I note that this view was backed up by the Justice Committee.
“The Istanbul Convention was, in effect, a game changer. We know that violence against women stakeholders are very keen for the Istanbul Convention to be ratified, and we want Scotland to be compliant. Criminalising forced marriage was therefore necessary to achieve this. The LCM offered the opportunity to enable Scotland to continue to be at the forefront of social justice issues.”
A number of stakeholders and organisations have relayed their thoughts on forced marriage through both written and oral evidence to the Justice Committee.
In evidence to the Justice Committee Detective Chief Superintendent Gillian Imery (26 November 2013) said:
“..a specific offence will send a clear message that forcing a person to marry against their will is unacceptable and will not be tolerated”.
In her evidence to the Justice Committee Catriona Dalrymple from the Crown Office (26 November 2013) said:
“Criminalisation of conduct ‘can play a part in influencing cultural change’. We must make it very clear to everybody when something is potentially criminal. That will play a part in changing attitudes regarding what is acceptable”.
In their written submission to the Justice Committee Alison Davies, Manager of Saheliya (BME Womens Support Organisation based in Edinburgh) (dated 12 December 2013) said:
“We wish to adhere to the letter as well as the spirit of the Istanbul Convention. We believe it will strengthen support work and preventative work. Forced marriage should be in line with other abusive practices within the family such as domestic violence and sexual abuse.”
In their written submission to the Justice Committee (dated 2 December 2013) Mark Ballard, Head of Policy Barnardo’s Scotland, said:
“We believe that creating an offence under Scots law of forcing someone into marriage would be the right step to take in order to tackle this very serious issue. We believe that much like the attitude towards domestic abuse, cultural and societal attitudes towards forced marriage need to change.
“Making it a criminal offence to force an individual into marriage will send a clear message that this behaviour is not acceptable. Additionally, as with other forms of abuse, victims may be unwilling to come forwards and may even feel as though they do not want the perpetrator punished by a criminal sanction. However, we do feel that by criminalising the act itself we will begin to shift perceptions and start the drive towards cultural change that is needed to stamp out forced marriage in Scotland.”