First forced marriage conviction: how prevalent is it in Britain?

Campaigners say the landmark ruling 'sends a strong message' to perpetrators of the crime

Brides at a mass wedding in India
(Image credit: Getty)

A businessman from Cardiff who raped and blackmailed a woman before forcing her to marry him has become the first person to in Britain to be jailed under the new forced marriage law.

In a landmark ruling, the 34-year old was sentenced to 16 years in prison after pleading guilty to charges of forced marriage, rape, bigamy and voyeurism, The Independent reports. He cannot be named in order to avoid revealing the identity of his victim.

The man, who was already married at the time, was described as an "arrogant, manipulative and devious man" by Judge Daniel Williams. The court heard how he developed an "irrational obsession" with his 25-year old victim, who is a devout Muslim.

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After pursuing her for years, he eventually lured her to his home and raped her. He then filmed her having a shower and used the footage and threats against her family to blackmail her into marrying him.

"She was a virgin, something which you knew and something which you used to ensure her silence," said the judge. "You took her innocence to ensure her silence."

Campaigners have described the ruling as legal milestone and encouraged more victims to come forward. "We hope that this will send a strong message out to those perpetrating this heinous crime that forced marriage will not be tolerated in the UK," said Jasvinder Sanghera, who campaigned for forced marriage to be criminalised.

What does forced marriage involve?

The term applies to victims who are forced into marriages or relationships against their will, a significant proportion of whom are young girls. They often experience physical, psychological, financial, sexual and emotional abuse at the hands of their "partners".

What are the current UK laws against the practice?

The government describes the practice as "appalling and indefensible" and recognises it as "a form of violence against women and men, domestic/child abuse and a serious abuse of human rights."

The Forced Marriage Unit was set up by the Home Office and Foreign Office in 2005 to tackle the crime and operates both within the UK and internationally.

A new law was introduced by the government last year in order to prosecute offenders and protect victims. The legislation makes it a criminal offence - punishable by up to seven years in prison- to force someone to marry against his or her will.

How prevalent is it in the UK and who is affected?

Last year, the Forced Marriage Unit dealt with 1,267 possible cases, the BBC reports. Campaigners argue that there could be thousands more due to under-reporting of the crime. While the practice affects men and women across different cultural groups, the majority of its victims are young, vulnerable girls from Asian, Middle Eastern and African backgrounds.

Forced marriage across the world:

Every two seconds a young girl is forced into marriage, according to the campaign group Too Young to Wed. Forced marriage will affect over 14 million girls globally every year, with one girl in nine marrying before the age of 15 and one in three before the age of 18.

One Ethiopian child bride told researchers she could not even remember being "given" to her husband because she was only an infant. "My husband brought me up", she said.

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