Scottish government ministers today revealed proposals to pass a bill of rights making forced marriages a thing of the past.
The legislation enables courts to pass prison sentences of up to two years and issue annulments on any marriage found to cause emotional distress. Friends and family of victims also have the right to voice any concern to the police.
This comes as a direct response to current campaigning by the Scottish Women’s Association (SWA) who last week held their annual conference in Edinburgh where discussions were drawn to a close and action taken.
Lily Greenan, Managing Director of Scottish Women’s Aid was present at the conference.
“It was suggested by senior police and court officials that the issue is now a big enough problem in Edinburgh to require legislation,” she said.
Home office statistics show that 4000 women in the UK are forced into marriage every year, and 17, 000 women are victims of honour related violence.
Women’s protection charity Shakti, based in Edinburgh, say the move is long overdue.
“This act is particularly important as it sends a strong message to communities throughout Scotland, that forced marriage is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.”
The latest measure will stop cases such as Puja’s from occurring. After her marriage turned from bad to worse, her husband started beating her, and forbid her from seeing her only son. She had nowhere to turn for fear that her situation would deteriorate. This law will give men and women such as Puja legal protection as it will provide them with a safe environment and an escape.
Lothian and Borders police say this is a very positive step, which has been needed for a long time, but that public prejudice remains.
A police statement said: “Education also needs to be addressed with regards to the situation. An arranged marriage is a cultural and consensual practice but a forced marriage is an entirely different thing. It is an enforced situation whereby men and women feel trapped within their circumstances.”
Women’s charities hope the bill will raise awareness between the difference as the two are very different, and that difference is not well known. SWA expressed relief and that this positive step was taken, saying: “The fact that there is now a protection order shows valuable steps have been taken to ensure that anyone in breach of this will be identified as committing a criminal offense”.