A committee has backed provisions of a Bill which would give Scotland the tightest regulation on forced marriages in the UK.
The legislation, which is designed to protect people being forced into marrying without their consent, introduces Forced Marriage Protection Orders. Anyone found breaching an order could face up to two years in prison.
This means Scotland would become the only place in the UK where it would be a criminal offence to breach an order.
The Scottish Parliament’s Equal Opportunities Committee’s report states: “this strikes the right balance between identifying and helping victims of forced marriage and overcoming the concerns about criminalising family members”.
The Committee supports the general principles of the Forced Marriage (Protection and Jurisdiction) (Scotland) Bill and concludes that although the number of forced marriages in Scotland was believed to be relatively low, the impact on victims was so high that improved measures were needed to protect them.
The Convener, Margaret Mitchell MSP, said: “By making it a criminal offence to breach a forced marriage order, the Bill will strengthen the ability of law enforcers to protect victims and hopefully act as a deterrent to potential perpetrators.
“To date civil remedies have not proved sufficient to successfully rid Scotland of this abhorrent activity.
“Quite simply having heard harrowing evidence on the damage forced marriage does to the victims, the committee supports the view expressed by many witnesses that although numbers may be low in Scotland the detrimental impact is extremely high and cannot be tolerated.
“With this in mind the more victim-centred approach which the legislation adopts alongside campaigns to raise awareness of this totally unacceptable practise is the sensible way forward.”
The report also highlighted the need to ensure there was a clear distinction between forced and arranged marriages – with forced marriages carried out in the absence of valid consent by one or both parties which can involve physical or psychological duress. In contrast, an arranged marriage is entered into freely by both parties. Their families may take a role in the choice of partner, but the final decision as to whether or not to accept the arrangement lies with the potential spouses.