By Cassie Chambers and Alex Stevenson
Those forcing others into marriage may soon face jail time under proposals unveiled by the coalition.
Prime minister David Cameron announced that a specific offence of forced marriage would be introduced via new legislation in England and Wales, with jail time likely for those who are convicted of the crime.
Under existing legislation prosecutors are required to show another law—such as kidnapping—has been broken if they wish to pursue criminal charges.
The new law is designed to strengthen existing civil laws against forced marriage, which currently require the victim to file a protection order.
Many see that as an unreasonable hurdle that hinders the government's ability to effectively address the issue.
Prevention of forced marriage has been on the policy agenda in the UK for some time, with prime minister David Cameron calling the practice "completely wrong" and "little more than slavery" last October.
He said today: "Forced marriage is abhorrent and is little more than slavery.
"To force anyone into marriage against their will is simply wrong and that is why we have taken decisive action to make it illegal."
Home secretary Theresa May added: "Forced marriage is an appalling practice and by criminalising it we are sending a strong message that it will not be tolerated.
"But we know that legislation alone is not enough and we will continue to work across government and with frontline agencies and organisations to support and protect victims."
A cross-departmental Forced Marriage Unit has been set up within the government which has provided advice or support to over 600 cases in the first five months of the year.
Over £500,000 is to be invested in tackling forced marriage over the next three years.
This will be spent on a number of measures including helping victims, raising awareness of the problem abroad and even rescuing those who have already become victims overseas.
Developing a practical solution to the issue of forced marriage has been a slow process, however, due to concerns that laws that force victims to proceed with prosecution may deter victims from coming forward.
The new law will avoid this issue by allowing victims of forced marriage to choose whether or not they wish to pursue criminal charges.
Forced marriage is thought to affect over 8,000 Britons every year; the youngest victim reported to the Home Office last year was five years old.
Most cases of forced marriage occur within families from southern Asian countries, including India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.