LONDON(Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A man who admitted forcing a 25-year-old woman to marry him was jailed for 16 years on Wednesday in Britain’s first forced marriage conviction since the practice was made illegal last year.
The 34-year-old man, who cannot be named for legal reasons in order to protect the victim’s identity, also pleaded guilty to four charges of rape, one charge of bigamy, and one charge of voyeurism at Merthyr Tydfil Crown Court in Wales.
He was sentenced to four years for forced marriage, 12 months for bigamy and 12 months for voyeurism to run concurrently with the 16-year rape sentence.
“Forced marriage wrecks lives and destroys families,” said Iwan Jenkins, head of the Rape and Serious Sexual Offences Unit of the Crown Prosecution Service Wales which brought the case.
“We hope that today’s sentence sends a strong message that forced marriage will not be tolerated in today’s Britain ... (and) brings some closure for those who have suffered as a result of these particularly nasty and invasive crimes.”
The landmark conviction took place a year after forced marriage was made a criminal offense in England and Wales.
Anyone found guilty of forcing someone into marriage faces up to seven years in prison under the law, which also applies to British nationals at risk of being forced into marriage abroad.
Last year, the government’s forced marriage unit dealt with 1,267 cases. Seventy-nine percent of the victims were female and in 11 percent of the cases, the victim was under the age of 16.
Cases involved 88 countries including Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Somalia. Some 135 cases involved victims with disabilities and eight involved victims who were lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
Campaigners estimate that the actual number of forced marriages taking place in Britain each year could be as high as 10,000, and say that family honor and cultural traditions prevent victims from speaking out.
“We hope that this will ... inspire more people to come forward and receive support,” said Jasvinder Sanghera, CEO of forced marriage charity Karma Nirvana.
Reporting By Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Alex Whiting; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org