Experts say crime is woefully under-reported, as Guardian research shows large scale of domestic and sexual servitude.
More than 3,500 reports of forced marriage were made to police over a three-year period, a Guardian investigation has found, as charities warned that there were thousands more victims living in conditions of modern slavery in homes across the UK.
Data shared exclusively with the Guardian revealed 3,546 reports between 2014 and 2016. But experts warn that the figures, collected by the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation under the Freedom of Information Act, are just the tip of the iceberg.
Over the same three-year period, one national helpline run by another NGO received 22,030 calls from individuals or agencies concerned about a forced marriage. In 2017, the NGO Karma Nirvana received a further 8,870 calls, including more than 200 from or about children under 15, and gave advice regarding eight new clients under 10.
The new figures reveal the shocking extent of forced marriage in Britain – a crime that experts say should be investigated and prosecuted as a form of modern slavery.
They point to the fact that a guilty verdict last week against a mother who trafficked her daughter to be married in Pakistan was the first of its kind in the country despite the large number of reported offences.
Legal experts and campaigners say modern slavery legislation could lead to an increase in convictions for a crime that is notoriously hard to prosecute because victims are reluctant to testify against family members.
Last week’s landmark conviction resulted in a mother from Birmingham being jailed for four-and-a-half years for duping her 17-year-old daughter into travelling abroad and forcing her into marriage.
The woman had threatened to rip up her daughter’s passport if she did not marry the 34-year-old Pakistani national who had got her pregnant when she was just 13.