England and Wales made it a criminal offense as of Monday to force anyone into marriage, an effort to persuade victims to come forward and to emphasize secular legal values.

The practice of forced marriage is more common among South Asians here, government officials said. Nearly two-thirds of the cases that the government's Forced Marriage Unit deals with stem from these communities, where the common cultural practice of arranged marriage can in extreme cases become forced marriage, which the government considers a form of violence.

The law, which carries a maximum prison sentence of seven years, also makes it a crime to force a British citizen into marriage abroad, since some families force their children to fly to other countries, like Pakistan, India or Bangladesh, for an arranged marriage there.

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