A VICTIM of forced marriage has said new legislation to prosecute parents who force their children into marriage does not go far enough.

The Government announced yesterday that forced marriage would now be met with a jail sentence, and that £500,000 of extra funding was also being made available to help identify and support those affected.

But Saima Afzal, who was forced into a marriage by her family, before being kidnapped and held under house arrest in Pakistan, said that although she welcomed the criminalisation, she did not believe it would stop forced marriages.

Miss Afzal, from the Audley area of Blackburn, said: “Just criminalising something alone does not stop it happening.

“We are calling for protection orders to be brought in. We are trying to change cultural mindsets and at the same time we need a different approach.”

Miss Afzal, 40, now works as the executive member for equality, diversity and human rights at the Association of Police Authorities Board and has been awarded an MBE for her work.

She said that that in her case, prosecuting her father would not have helped, as he helped her escape the marriage when he realised it was not what she wanted.

Miss Afzal added some victims may also be reluctant to come forward if they think it will get their parents into trouble.

She said: “I think it is too simplistic to say it is the parents to blame.

“When somebody takes that step to prosecute their parents, they are losing their whole family because they are then isolated and the last thing we want to do is isolate them from their identity.”

Anjum Anwar, chair of the Women’s Voice, an East Lancashire voluntary organisation providing information for women, agreed that more had to be done to stop forced marriages happening in the first place.

She said: “The law must be there as a safety net.

“We need education and it needs to be done directly by the communities themselves.

“They need to address their own problems and they need to ask why we have this problem in the 21st century.”

A spokesman for the Lancashire Council of Mosques said forced marriages were “a sad reality” with no basis in the Muslim faith.

He said: “Islam does not even consider forced marriages to be valid, something that is detailed within religious texts and that is often discussed by our imams in their sermons.

“The Lancashire Council of Mosques has in past years written to mosques asking imams to continue the good work and to ensure the subject is discussed.”

Andrew Stephenson, MP for Pendle, said the change was long overdue.

He said: “I have been calling for this for some time, so welcome the Government’s decision.

“Forced marriage is completely wrong and whilst a new law will not in itself eradicate this problem it will draw a clear line in the sand and send out a powerful message.”