Forced marriage a hidden crime, official report says
More than 1,000 possible forced marriage cases were flagged up to a specialist Government service last year, figures show.
Over a quarter of the total 1,196 reports handled by the Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) involved victims below the age of 18, while one in five related to male victims.
The total number of cases registered in 2017 was down by 19% on the previous year, but officials said the fall does not represent a decrease in prevalence of forced marriage in the UK.
Forcing someone to marry against their will is a criminal offence which carries a maximum sentence of seven years.
A forced marriage is defined as one in which one or both spouses do not consent to the marriage and violence, threats or any other form of coercion is involved.
Established in 2005, the FMU is jointly run by the Home Office and Foreign Office.
Since 2012, the facility has provided support in between 1,200 and 1,400 cases per year.
But a report published by the two departments on Thursday stressed that the statistics only represent cases reported to the unit, adding: "Forced marriage is a hidden crime, and these figures may not reflect the full scale of the abuse."
The figures show 355 (29.7%) cases involved victims below 18 years of age, including 186 relating to victims aged 15 or younger.
While the majority (77.8%) of reports logged in 2017 related to female victims, 256, or 21.4%, involved male victims.
"This demonstrates that men can also be forced into marriage," the report said.
It emphasised that forced marriage is not a problem specific to one country or culture, noting that the unit has handled cases relating to more than 90 nations across Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Europe and North America since it was set up.
In 2017, the FMU dealt with cases relating to 65 "focus" countries.
This could be the country where the forced marriage is due to take place, or the country that the spouse is currently residing in, or both.
The four countries with the highest number of cases last year were Pakistan (439 cases), Bangladesh (129 cases), Somalia (91 cases) and India (82 cases).
In 120 instances there was no overseas element, with the potential or actual forced marriage taking place entirely within the UK.