Forced marriage has become a criminal offence today (Monday), with parents who force their children to marry facing seven years in prison.
Previously, courts have only been able to issue civil orders to stop victims being forced into marriage.
A West Yorkshire Imam and forced marriage expert has backed the legislation.
Imam Taher, of the Grand Mosque in Leeds, has filmed a video to help tackle the issue.
He said: “The practice of forced marriage is unjust and evil. It must be stopped and prevented.
“Parents must know that they are abusing the rights of their children when they force them into marriage. They must know that they are hurting their child when they force him or her to live and spend their lives with someone they don’t love.”
Forced marriage is a crime where one or both spouses do not or cannot consent to the marriage and duress is involved. This can include physical, psychological, financial, sexual and emotional pressure.
In some cases victims suffer violence and abuse.
It is not the same as an ‘arranged marriage’ – a cultural practice which is not unlawful and involves the consent of both spouses.
The new legislation will apply if people are forced into marriage in England and Wales, as well as to UK nationals at risk of being forced into marriage abroad.
Assistant Chf Con John Robins, who is leading a West Yorkshire Police campaign to highlight the issue, said: “Forced marriage is not specifically attached to a particular belief or culture, nor is it condoned through religion. The majority of reports received by West Yorkshire Police relate to women or girls aged between 13 and 30. However, victims are not exclusively female – both men and women, young and old can be victims of forced marriage.
“Between April 1 2013 and the March 31 2014 there were 108 forced marriage related reports in West Yorkshire. Over the same period there were 113 reports relating to honour based violence. Sixteen Forced Marriage Protection Orders were also issued and this may only be the tip of the iceberg.”