Figures showing that 1,220 possible cases of forced marriage in Britain were reported to the authorities last year may not reflect the full scale of abuse, the Home Office has said.
The specialist Forced Marriage Unit, a join Home and Foreign Office operation, gave advice or support in an average of three cases a day, the figures show.
Some 329 of the cases – more than one in four – involved victims who were under 18, while more than one in three (35 per cent) were aged between 18 and 25.
The majority (80 per cent) involved female victims. The same amount of calls, nearly 80 per cent, were from professionals, colleagues, friends or family, and only a small proportion from victims themselves.
“The fact [that] self-reports represent a smaller proportion of calls may reflect the hidden nature of forced marriages and that victims may fear reprisals from their family if they come forward,” the unit said in its report.
“Cases involving very young children often involve the promise of a future marriage rather than an imminent marriage. In a small number of cases involving older victims, the forced marriage may have happened years previously or where the victim has a learning disability.”
But the report warned that the findings may not reflect the full scale of abuse.
It said: “Forced marriage is a hidden practice and as a result, the figures may not reflect the full scale of the abuse.”
Since it was established the FMU has handled cases relating to more than 90 countries across Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Europe and North America.
In 2015, the unit handled cases relating to 67 “focus” countries to which a victim was at risk of being taken to, or had already been taken to.
The report said the five highest volume countries in 2015 were: Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Somalia, and Afghanistan.
In 2015, 175 (14 per cent) of the cases handled by the FMU had no overseas element, with the forced marriage activity taking place entirely within the UK.
A forced marriage, which became a criminal offence in 2014, 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.
In June last year, a Muslim businessman became the first person to be successfully prosecuted under the new laws.
The 34-year-old man from Cardiff was jailed for 16 years for making a 25-year-old woman marry him under duress.