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Rachel Jenkins

Forced marriage law is failing

Only one in 30 suspected forced marriages in England is leading to a prosecution.

In the past seven years 8,170 cases of suspected forced marriages were identified by the government’s forced marriage unit. There have only been 395 referrals to the Crown Prosecution Service since 2010, however, of which 268 prosecutions were completed, according to the CPS’s violence against women and girls reports.

During the same period, about 1,250 forced marriage protection orders were issued to protect girls and women at risk, and assist with repatriating victims. Last year 246 were issued, up from 217 in 2015.

Manchester, Luton, Leicester and Bradford are the UK’s forced marriage “hotspots” where the most orders have been issued, according to a freedom of information request.

About 80 per cent of suspected cases involved girls and women being coerced into marriage, while 20 per cent involved male victims.

Legislation was introduced in 2014 criminalising forced marriage, which Theresa May said at the time would stamp out the “terrible practice”. Before then, offences such as harassment, kidnap, and threats to kill were recorded when they occurred in the context of a forced marriage.

Last month the NSPCC said that the number of counselling sessions provided by Childline for children who feared forced marriages had almost quadrupled in five years to 205 in 2016-17. The potential victims were as young as 13, the charity said.

Alison Saunders, the director of public prosecutions, said last September that conviction rates were too low and announced a plan to work more closely with charities to support witnesses and victims.

The Lib Dems called last night for the government to act urgently to crack down on the practice and to refer more cases to the CPS.

Sir Ed Davey, the Lib Dems’ home affairs spokesman, said: “It is shocking that so many victims of forced marriages appear to be still slipping through the cracks. Thousands of young women and girls are effectively being abandoned by the government. We need urgent extra action to prevent another wave of forced marriages, including training teachers to spot the signs and ensuring victims know where to turn to get help.”

A government spokeswoman said: “We know there is more to do and will continue to work with the police, CPS and others to ensure perpetrators face justice for their crimes.”