London, Mar 10 (PTI) The UK government consulted on and helped prevent as many as 1,428 cases of forced marriages involving British nationals last year, of which 79 such cases involved victims being taken to India. Also Read - Fight Against Period Poverty: Scotland Becomes World’s First Country to Make Sanitary Pads & Tampons Free For All

New figures released by the government’s Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) today also reveals that Pakistan with 612 cases and Bangladesh with 121 cases represent the highest figures among the so-called “focus” countries where victims are likely to be taken from Britain to be forced into a marriage against their will. Also Read - Scotland Braces for Most Stringent Covid-19 Curbs, Pubs, Restaurants To Remain Closed

The percentage of cases involving India has dropped from 7.8 per cent in 2015 to 6 per cent in 2016. Also Read - Scotland to Reopen Castles, Palaces as Covid-19 Lockdown Eases

“These statistics only represent the cases that have been reported to the FMU. Forced marriage is a hidden crime, and these figures may not reflect the full scale of the abuse.

The FMU also received approximately 350 telephone calls per month in 2016,” the FMU said.

A forced marriage “victim” is identified by the unit as one thought to be at potential risk of future forced marriage, those currently going through a forced marriage, and those who have already been forced to marry.

“The majority of calls about cases (almost 80 per cent) come from professionals as well as other third parties (non-governmental organisations, colleagues, friends, or family). The fact self-reports represent a smaller proportion of calls may reflect the hidden nature of forced marriage and that victims may fear reprisals from their family if they come forward,” the FMU said.

A forced marriage is defined as one where one or both people do not (or in cases of people with learning disabilities, cannot) consent to the marriage and pressure or abuse is used.

It was made illegal in England, Wales and Scotland in 2014 but there has been only one conviction.

Forcing someone to marry against their will is punishable by a maximum penalty of seven years imprisonment.

The legislation makes a distinction between forced and arranged marriage, common among many British families from a South Asian background.

The Forced Marriage Unit is a joint UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and Home Office unit set up in January 2005 to lead on the government s forced marriage policy, outreach and casework.

It operates both inside the UK and overseas, where consular assistance is provided to British nationals, including dual nationals.

The FMU operates a public helpline to provide advice and support to victims of forced marriage as well as to professionals dealing with cases.

The assistance provided ranges from simple safety advice, through to aiding a victim to prevent their unwanted spouse moving to the UK (‘reluctant sponsor’ cases), and, in extreme circumstances, to rescues of victims held against their will overseas.

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.