A new law criminalising forced marriages which comes into effect today could protect thousands of potential victims.
Forcing someone into marriage in England and Wales will carry a maximum seven-year jail sentence under the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014.
The change also criminalises forcing a British national into marriage outside the UK.
Home Secretary Theresa May said: “Forced marriage is a tragedy for each and every victim, and its very nature means that many cases go unreported.
“I am proud to say that the UK is already a world-leader in the fight to stamp out this harmful practice with the Government’s Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) working hard to tackle this terrible practice in the UK and overseas.”
Mrs May has joined anti-child marriage charity Freedom, police, the Crown Prosecution Service and a victim of forced marriage in a Freedom2Choose campaign video.
A forced marriage is where one or both spouses do not consent and are coerced into it through physical, psychological, financial, sexual or emotional pressure.
The Home Office has said the FMU gave advice or support in a possible forced marriage to more than 1,300 people in 2013.
Freedom founder Aneeta Prem said: “In the most tragic cases, people forced into marriage become domestic slaves by day and sexual slaves by night.
“Today’s announcement sends out a powerful message that this indefensible abuse of human rights will not be tolerated.”
Last week, the NSPCC said children as young as 12 were calling ChildLine about forced marriage, with numbers up two-thirds in the last year.