Britain’s Foreign Office dealt with 79 forced marriage cases related to India, where a victim was at risk of, or had already been taken to during 2016, official figures released on Thursday showed.
The largest number of cases handled by the Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) during the year was in Pakistan: 612. Overall, it provided support or advice in 1,428 cases involving 69 “focus” countries, of which the top three were Pakistan, Bangladesh and India.
Such marriages usually involve one victim with British citizenship. Campaign groups such as Karma Nirvana and Freedom Charity are encouraged by increasing awareness and more victims coming forward, but believe the practice remains under-reported to authorities.
The 79 India-related cases in 2016 accounted for 6% of the total cases handled during the year. The percentage for previous years was - 6% in 2015, 7.8% in 2014, 10.9% in 2013 and 8% in 2012.
A criminal offence in British law, a forced marriage is described as one in which one or both spouses do not (or, in the case of some adults with learning or physical disabilities or mental incapacity, cannot) consent to the marriage, and violence, threats, or any other form of coercion is involved.
Coercion may include emotional or physical force or the threat of physical force, and, financial pressure, according to the FMU, which is a joint unit of the Home Office and Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
“(No) major faith in the UK advocates forced marriage. It is also important to note that freely given consent is a prerequisite of Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim and Sikh marriages…Forced marriage is not a problem specific to one country or culture,” the FMU said.
Since it was established in 2005, the FMU has handled cases relating to more than 90 countries across Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Europe and North America. It distributes posters in Hindi, Punjabi, Bengali and Urdu to spread awareness that forced marriage is a crime.