UK forced-marriage survivor and Councilwoman, Sameem Ali, opposes Prime Minister David Cameron’s campaign to criminalize the harmful practice:

I was forced into a marriage at the age of 13 and I only escaped that marriage knowing that I don’t have to put a finger on my parents. Criminalising is going to drive the victims underground. Victims are going to feel guilty about prosecuting their parents. The numbers may go down because the victims are not coming forward any more, because no young person wants to say ‘arrest mummy and daddy’ because it is mummy and daddy who force the young person into marriage in the first place. Victims have the choice now whether they want to prosecute their parents, and no victim has felt the need to. By forcing this law upon them, they are not only going to be forced into marriage but they are also going to be forced to come into court and give evidence against their parents. It is a shambles.

Ali believes that criminalizing forced marriage will only silence victims, shatter families, and divide ethnic communities.  “I did not want any harm done to my mother or to my brother who forced me into this marriage,” Ali told Mancunian Matters, “I just wanted them to leave me alone.”  Opponents of criminalization believe that existing criminal laws are sufficient to prosecute ancillary crimes sometimes committed in the course of forcing a person to marry, such as threats, violence, harassment, false imprisonment, and abduction.  They are confident that the UK’s current civil Forced Marriage Protection Orders will protect and empower victims without discouraging reporting.

Proponents of criminalization argue that criminalizing the harmful practice will encourage victims to come forward and deter parents from forcing their children into unwanted marriages by sending a clear zero-tolerance message.  “Forced marriage is abhorrent and little more than slavery,” says Prime Minister Cameron, “To force anyone into marriage against their will is simply wrong and that is why we have taken decisive action to make it illegal.”

Should forced-marriage laws be civil or criminal?  What do you think?

READ MORE: ‘It’s a shambles’: Forced marriage victim warns about David Cameron’s plans to criminalise the practice, By Mihaela Ivantcheva Mancunian Matters (June 18, 2012).