Britain investigated 400 cases of forced marriages last year and is also looking into whether some girls who have vanished from school registers were taken out of schools to be married against their will, officials said Tuesday.
It is currently not against British law to force someone into marriage, but the practice often involves criminal offenses including abuse, assault, rape, kidnapping and murder.
The Forced Marriage Unit, comprised of six officers from the Foreign Office and Home Office, dealt with 400 reported cases last year. Of those, 168 occurred abroad. The majority of the cases overseas were in Pakistan, Bangladesh and India, the Foreign Office said.
A new act takes effect this year that will allow judges more power to remove victims of abuses connected with forced marriage from households and issue protection orders. Family members who break the protection orders could be arrested.
Ann Cryer, a member of Parliament for Keighley in Yorkshire, has been speaking out against forced marriages for nine years. She said she is particularly concerned that the issue is not being addressed in schools and in Muslim areas.
“There’s a problem in our northern towns and cities where all three parties are worried about losing the Muslim vote so people have avoided talking about it,” Cryer told AP.
Figures from the Forced Marriage Unit show the highest incidence of reported cases is in Muslim communities. Britain is home to more than 1.8 million Muslims, the majority of whom are of Pakistani origin.