Forced marriages have been made illegal in England and Wales to protect vulnerable individuals against coercion and manipulation. The new law also makes it illegal for any British citizen to be forced into marriage outside Britain’s territory. Almost two-third of the cases handled by the British government’s Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) involve Britain’s south Asian communities. Forty percent of victims are aged 17 or under and three quarters are under 22. Pakistan tops the list with 43%, with India and Bangladesh making up for 11% and 10% cases respectively. The new legislation is a victory for rights’ activists who have been campaigning against the menace for decades now.

The most common excuse presented for the abhorrent exercise is that it is part of people’s culture. Some look towards religion for validation. However, neither religious mandate nor cultural practices can be considered a legitimate defence. Be it religion or traditions, or both of them allied in their opposition against people as we often observe, basic human rights must always take precedence over both. No practice, regardless of where it stems from, can be allowed to continue if it violates rights and liberties, and ruins lives. There are several cases where young men and women are tricked into visiting their homelands and forced into marriage as there is no one to protect them there. Such parents are deserving of contempt and punishment, as they knowingly deprive their children of the opportunity to exercise choice. Of course, education and awareness have a role to play in dealing with illiteracy and ignorance. However, the law, if it is to adequately secure the rights of victims and safeguard them, must ensure legal loopholes are not manipulated. The law stands in opposition to the powerful cultural traditions of many immigrant communities, and will be difficult to implement. A lot of the forceful manipulation by families is not physical but emotional, which makes it hard to prove in court. No concessions should be made to accommodate such communities or their vile practices, and the British government has rightly criminalized acts which they engage in so frequently and brazenly. It is hoped that this law will encourage individuals to speak up and seek assistance as well as deter cultural bigots.