London: Forcing someone to marry against their will - a practice often reported from communities in Britain with origins in the Indian sub-continent - will soon become a criminal offence, Premier David Cameron announced on Friday, comparing it with "slavery".
Every year, authorities deal with hundreds of cases of forced marriages within Britain and through high commissions in south Asia, rescuing many British Asians who are forced to marry against their will to spouses, often for purposes of immigration.
Most cases involve individuals with origins in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
The decision to create a specific offence of forced marriage follows a 12-week consultation which took views from the public, victims, charities and frontline agencies.
The new law will be accompanied by a range of measures to increase protection and support for victims with a continuing focus on prevention, Home Secretary Theresa May announced.
Mr Cameron said: "Forced marriage is abhorrent and is little more than slavery. To force anyone into marriage against their will is simply wrong and that is why we have taken decisive action to make it illegal."
He added: "I have listened to concerns that criminalisation could force this most distressing issue underground. That is why we have a new comprehensive package to identify possible victims, support those who have suffered first hand and, indeed, prevent criminality wherever possible."
Mr Cameron said he wanted to send a clear message to the communities involved that "forced marriage is wrong, is illegal and will not be tolerated."
The home secretary said: "It is the right of every individual to make their own choices about their relationships and their future. Forced marriage is an appalling practice... But we know that legislation alone is not enough and we will continue to work across government and with frontline agencies and organisations to support and protect victims."
A cross-departmental Forced Marriage Unit has been set up to help victims.
It runs a helpline providing confidential support and advice to victims and professionals and conducts a nationwide outreach programme with schools and other agencies, including social services and the police.
Between January and May 2012, the Forced Marriage Unit has provided advice and support in nearly 600 cases.