Just one in 30 cases of alleged forced marriages are leading to a prosecution, sparking claims current laws are failing and conviction rates are too low.
The government’s forced marriage unit has identified 8,170 cases of suspected forced marriages in the past seven years.
However, according to the Crown Prosecution Service’s (CPS) violence against women and girls report, just 395 cases have been referred to the CPS since 2010, and only 268 prosecutions were completed.
During the same period, about 1,250 forced marriage protection orders were issued to protect girls and women at risk. Last year, 246 were issued – up from 217 in 2015.
According to a freedom of information request seen by The Times, most of the orders were issued in a small number of “hotspots” with large numbers of migrants, namely Manchester, Luton, Leicester, and Bradford.
Meanwhile, the proportion of successful prosecutions fell last year, from 63.0 per cent in 2014-15 to 60.4 per cent in 2015-16.
There were just five prosecutions under the specific forced marriage offence in 2015-16 and six for breach of a forced marriage protection order.
Forced marriage was only made a specific offence in 2014, including UK nationals married off abroad, with a maximum penalty of seven years. Then Home Secretary Theresa May claimed that the UK was a “world-leader in the fight to stamp out this harmful practice” at the time.
Last month, it was reported that the number of children subjected to or fearing forced marriage being offered assistance by the UK’s leading children’s charity had hit a record level. The potential victims were as young as 13, the NSPCC 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.
Tuesday night, the Liberal Democrats called for the government to act urgently to crack down on the practice and to refer more cases to the CPS.
Sir Ed Davey, the party’s home affairs spokesman, told The Times: “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 spokesman 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.”