This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
Forced marriage law "is welcome"
Campaigners have welcomed a Government plan to outlaw forced marriages – but warned the laws could deter victims from coming forward.
The proposed new laws mean parents who force their children to marry could be brought before the courts and possibly jailed.
Meena Kumari, who runs Safe, which helps protect young people from being forced to marry welcomed the proposal and said a growing number of victims were coming forward to seek help.
However, she urged ministers to proceed with the new laws with caution.
Ms Kumari said: "Some of the people we have supported might not have come forward if they thought their parents could end up in prison.
"So, while we are really grateful that the Government is taking this issue so seriously, they have to proceed with caution.
"Some of the people who we work with would simply walk away if they thought they were going to have to face their families in court."
Safe works with police, social services, schools and colleges to identify victims and help them flee abusive homes and rebuild their lives, sometimes under new identities.
It is hearing from one person every month – some as young as 14 – who fear they are being pushed into a marriage against their will.When it launched two and a half years ago, new cases were coming to light every three months, Ms Kumari said.
Detective Inspector Mark Parish, who runs Leicestershire Police's domestic violence team, said: "We are seeing a gradual increase in cases, but it is still under-reported.
"It is a big step for people to contact us but they can be assured we will do everything we can to help them get through this difficult period in their lives."
Police have the option of seeking court orders to prevent families forcing a relative to marry. Officers also put victims in touch with welfare organisations such as Safe or local authorities for help with re-housing and ongoing support.
Leicester East MP Keith Vaz is chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, which has previously urged the Government to outlaw the practice.
Mr Vaz said: "The Government must not only prosecute those who commit this appalling crime, but prevent it from happening in the first place. There should be zero tolerance of this harmful activity that ruins the lives of so many."
Announcing the plan, the Prime Minister said local authorities and voluntary groups would be given a share of a £500,000 fund to help combat the problem, including helping teachers to spot children at risk.
A Home Office spokesman said the Government would publish further details of the proposals later. Contact Safe on 0800 022 3353 or visit: www.safedvs.co.uk