How This Female Chief Broke Up 850 Child Marriages In Malawi

This article originally appeared on The Huffington Post, 1 April 2016.

By Sarah Ruiz-Grossman.


Theresa Kachindamoto was the youngest of 12 children born into a family of chiefs [Hannah McNeish/Al Jazeera]

One woman established a new law to prevent child marriage, and is enforcing it with serious gusto.

Theresa Kachindamoto, senior chief in the Dedza District in Central Malawi, was tired of seeing 12-year-old girls walking around with babies on their hips, according to Al Jazeera. She decided to take a stand and made 50 of her sub-chiefs sign an agreement to end child marriage in her area of authority.

“I told them: ‘Whether you like it or not, I want these marriages to be terminated,’” Kachindamoto told the news outlet.


But she didn’t stop there: She made the leaders annul any existing underage unions, and send all of the children involved back to school, according to the Nyasa Times.

While marrying under age 18 in Malawi has been illegal since early 2015, children can still be married under so-called “customary law,” meaning with parental consent and overseen by traditional leaders, reports Al Jazeera.

When four male chiefs continued to approve underage marriages, Kachindamoto suspended them as a warning to others, only hiring them back once they confirmed they had annulled the unions, according to Al Jazeera.

“First it was difficult, but now people are understanding,” she said to the outlet.

To ensure children are not being pulled out of school, Kachindamoto operates a secret network of parents to keep an eye on others. And when parents can’t afford to pay school fees, she’ll pay them herself or find someone else who can.

“I don’t want youthful marriages,” Chief Kachindamoto told U.N. Women. “They must go to school. No child should be found at home or doing household chores during school time.”

In June alone, she annulled more than 300 child marriages, according to the organization. And over the past three years, the figure reaches close to 850.

MPHANDULA, MALAWI - AUGUST 19: Suzana Nabanda, age 16, walks with her sister and relatives after a marriage ceremony on August 19, 2006 in Mphandula village, about 30 miles outside Lilongwe, Malawi. She just got married to a farmer a few hours earlier. Mphandula is a poor village in Malawi, without electricity or clean water. Nobody owns a car or a mobile phone. Most people live on farming. About 7000 people live in the village and the chief estimates that there are about five-hundred orphans. Many have been affected by HIV/Aids and many of the children are orphaned. A foundation started by Madonna has decided to build an orphan center in the village through Consol Homes, a Malawi based organization. Raising Malawi is investing about 3 million dollars in the project and Madonna is scheduled to visit the village in October 2006. Malawi is a small landlocked country in Southern Africa without any natural resources. Many people are affected by the Aids epidemic. Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world and has about 1 million orphaned children. (Photo by Per-Anders Pettersson/Getty Images)

Suzana Nabanda, age 16, walks with her sister after a marriage ceremony in 2006, in a poor village in Malawi. She just got married to a farmer. (Photo by Per-Anders Pettersson/Getty Images)

Malawi has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world, with an alarming one in two girls married under age 18, according to Girls Not Brides. Marrying underage negatively affects girls’ development, interrupting their education and putting them at higher risk of domestic violence and early pregnancy.

In poor, rural regions like the Dedza District, rates of child marriage are particularly high, according to Unicef, and it can be hard to convince parents not to marry off their daughters in exchange for a dowry.

That’s where Chief Kachindamoto comes in.

“I talk to the parents,” she said to U.N. Women last year. “I tell them: if you educate your girls you will have everything in the future.”

H/T Al Jazeera.




Forced To Marry Her Rapist, 19-Year-Old Hangs Herself 7 Months After Marriage

This article originally appeared on the IndiaTimes Website, 26 October 2016.

By Sanjay Dutta

Seven months after a Haryana rape survivor was forced to marry her rapist, on the intervention of a panchayat, unending torment at her in-laws’ hands drove the 19-year-old girl to hang herself on Tuesday.

A case was registered at Jagadhri City police station. The rape took place at Jagadhri in Yamunanagar district in October 2015.

The rapist, identified as Anuj, was booked and arrested. However, he offered to marry the rape survivor, then a minor, as part of a deal brokered by a panchayat. The couple got married in March and the girl deposed in Anuj’s favour in July, which led to his being cleared of the rape charges.

According to the complaint filed by the girl’s mother, Anuj and his parents kept harassing the victim.

“She was subjected to physical and mental torture. They had an altercation on Monday as well,” said Jagadhri City SHO Sunil Kumar. The victim’s mother also alleged that she was hanged after being killed, and that Anuj and his parents had been harassing her (victim) to bring dowry and to pay their legal expenses in the rape case.


Samia Shahid ‘honour killing’: No decision on charges

This article originally appeared on the BBC News Website, 20 October 2016.


Chaudhry Muhammad Shakeel and Chaudhry Muhammad Shahid have been held in connection with Ms Shahid’s death

A decision on charging the father and first husband of a woman believed to have been a victim of a so-called “honour killing” has been delayed.

Samia Shahid, 28, from Bradford, died in Pakistan in July.

Chaudhry Muhammad Shakeel is accused of her murder while her father Chaudhry Muhammad Shahid is being held as an accessory to murder.

A judge has adjourned the case until 29 October after Ms Shahid’s second husband requested the case be moved.

Syed Mukhtar Kazim has lodged a petition with the High Court in Lahore asking for the case to be moved to the city from Jhelum.

He claims in his petition that his life has been threatened if he visits Jhelum.


Samia Shahid died while visiting relatives in Pandori in northern Punjab

Lawyers for Mr Shakeel and Mr Shahid have previously claimed there is no evidence to support charges against their clients.

Ms Shahid, a beautician, married Mr Kazim in Leeds in 2014 and the couple then moved to Dubai.

Mr Kazim has claimed his wife, who died whilst visiting relatives in Pakistan, was killed because her family disapproved of their marriage.

Initially, it was claimed she had died of a heart attack but a post-mortem examination confirmed she had been strangled.


Migrant child brides put Europe in a spin

This article originally appeared on the BBC News website, 30 September 2015.


Campaigners say child marriage often means forced marriage

Should a 14-year-old married girl who migrates to Europe be viewed as a child – or a spouse?

The issue has put European governments in a spin: forcing a policy U-turn in Denmark, new legislation in the Netherlands and an agonised debate in Germany.

Analysts say early marriage is often carried out in refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey by families trying to protect girls from poverty or sexual exploitation. Elsewhere, poor families might marry off their young daughters in exchange for dowries.

The question is one of rights and protections – but which? When authorities stop minors cohabiting with their older spouses, are they combating child abuse or breaking up (often already traumatised) families?

Depending on where you go in Europe, you’ll find a radically different range of responses to the issue.

Denmark’s dilemma

Denmark’s response has swung first one way and then the other.

In February, Integration Minister Inger Stojberg vowed to act after a review found dozens of cases of girls living with older men in asylum seekers’ accommodation – which the minister called “totally unacceptable”.

Couples would require “exceptional reasons” to live together below the age of 18 (the legal age for marriage in Denmark) and no cohabitation would be allowed whatsoever if one party was below 15.

But separation reportedly prompted two migrants under 18 to attempt suicide.

The policy was reversed earlier this week – with children as young as 14 reunited with their husbands – after the issue was raised with the Danish Immigration Service (DIS) by lawmaker Josephine Fock.

“It is completely outrageous. We are talking about people who have fled to Denmark who are being split from each other. Some of them have children together and investigating individual [asylum] cases takes an unbelievably long time,” Ms Fock told Metroxpress news service.

The DIS cited Denmark’s “international obligations” as the trigger for its policy change, concluding that enforcing separate living quarters would violate the UN’s Convention on the Rights of the Child and Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees the right to one’s “private and family life”.

That has prompted conservative politicians to call for Denmark’s withdrawal from such treaties.


Figures suggest child marriage is on the rise among displaced Syrians

Dutch clampdown

In the Netherlands, policy has shifted in the other direction – with the government moving swiftly last year to close a legal loophole which allowed child brides to live with older husbands in asylum centres.

And politicians have grappled with the same dilemma elsewhere in Europe – though on the whole each country is dealing with just a handful of cases.

German indecision

The issue takes on much broader significance in Germany, which has greeted some 1.2 million migrants since last year under Chancellor Angela Merkel’s “open-door” policy.

Here the authorities’ response has been inconsistent and, some claim, confused.

Data suggest that in Germany there are at least 1,000 marriages where one or both parties are under the legal marriage age of 18, of which more than half are in the southern state of Bavaria.


Legal marriage or state-sanctioned abuse?

The official confusion is reflected in one reported case: a 15-year-old Syrian girl married to her 21-year-old cousin. She was first separated from him in the city of Aschaffenburg, Bavaria, for reasons of child protection.

Her husband lost an appeal to a family court, but the decision was eventually set aside by a regional court, which judged that the marriage should be recognised as it was legal in the country of origin.

But the city appealed, and the pair are now awaiting a judgment from Germany’s federal court.


In response, Germany’s justice ministry has set up a working group to agree a consistent response.

Ironically, the Family Affairs Minister Manuela Schwesig cited the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to argue against under-age cohabitation, claiming that violated children’s rights to “play, education and health”.

Desperate choice

And the issue only threatens to become more pressing, despite the efforts of global campaign groups to eliminate child marriage – which they claim in many cases is in fact forced marriage.

Unicef figures from the vast Syrian refugee camps in Jordan suggest the proportion of registered marriages where the bride was under 18 rose from 12% in 2011 (roughly the same as the figure in pre-war Syria) to 18% in 2012, and as high as 25% by 2013.

And Jordan’s Chief Islamic Justice Department was recently quoted as saying child marriages represented about 35% of all marriages of Syrian refugees in 2015.

“There are a number of reasons why families are opting for child marriage for their daughters,” says charity Save the Children.

“As refugees, Syrian families are reliant on dwindling resources and are lacking economic opportunities. At the same time, they are all too aware of the need to protect their daughters from the threat of sexual violence.”


Sikh council plea to halt mixed-faith wedding protests

This article originally appeared on the BBC News website, 24 August 2015.


The Sikh Council (UK) has announced a new code of conduct for interfaith marriages

A Sikh group has asked for protests at mixed-faith weddings to stop for six months while new guidelines are tried.

Several weddings between Sikhs and non-Sikhs have been disrupted in recent weeks by protesters who say the ceremony should be for Sikhs only.

The Sikh Council (UK) argues that the Sikh wedding ceremony, or Anand Karaj, should be reserved only for Sikhs.

But many in the Sikh community disagree with this ruling, saying Sikhism teaches equality and acceptance.

The Sikh Council hosted a meeting of Sikh representatives from across the UK on Sunday to discuss solutions to the tensions.

This included drawing up a voluntary “code of conduct” designed to address any uncertainties around mixed marriages in the Sikh community.

Marrying people of other faiths is acceptable, they said, but marrying them in a Sikh temple is not.

‘Holy scriptures’

A BBC Asian Network investigation had previously found that Sikh weddings were regularly disrupted by protesters opposed to mixed-faith marriages in Sikh temples, called Gurdwaras.

The meeting called for the protests to stop for six months to “allow education processes, programmes and resources” to be developed and implemented by Gurdwaras.

Navraj Singh, who attended the meeting, says the protesters do not want to break anyone’s hearts, but Sikh scriptures say there is a code of conduct laid down by the Gurus, which needs to be upheld.


The meeting of Sikh representatives argued that a Sikh wedding ceremony should be for Sikhs only

The Sikh Council says only Sikhs can take part in the Sikh wedding ceremony.

Non-Sikhs can only be involved if they accept the Sikh faith and change their name to include Singh or Kaur.

“If somebody really passionately wants to have an Anand Karaj they have to accept that the long-established code of conduct for Sikhs clearly states only a Sikh can be wedded by the Anand Karaj”, said Gurinder Singh Josan, from the Sikh Council.

‘Contradicts teaching’

People of other faiths are welcome in Sikh temples and can attend blessings for their wedding there, Shamsher Singh of the National Sikh Youth Federation told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme.

Sikh scholar Davinder Panesar says, “If the Gurus don’t accept division in faith, caste or gender, why is it being enforced on the Sikh community? It doesn’t make sense and contradicts Sikh teachings.”

The proposals put forward by the Sikh Council are voluntary. It is up to the Gurdwaras if they implement them.

But Navraj Singh is not sure everyone will follow the guidelines.

“I can envisage there are going to be some Gurdwaras who say we’re going to do what we want. I can still envisage some protests happening at these places of worship, people who chose not to follow the Sikh Council,” he said.


British teenager forced to marry cousin at gunpoint in Pakistan

This article originally appeared in the Express Tribune, 15 August 2016


Khan’s cousin who was six years older, kept her captive for three years and raped her every night. PHOTO: REUTERS

A British teenager claimed she was forced at gunpoint in Pakistan to marry her cousin, who raped her everyday for three years.

Tasbassan Khan* alleged she was 15 when her aunt told her she was going on a summer holiday to Pakistan. Khan’s father had murdered her mother when she was 12, leaving her and three brothers in the care of their aunt in Doncaster, South Yorkshire.

On arriving in Pakistan, Khan claimed she was forced at gunpoint to marry her cousin, who was six years older and held her captive for three years, raping her every night. Khan later discovered she was forced into the marriage so her cousin could get a visa to come to Britain.

Now 26, Khan told the Sunday Express, “I thought I was going to Pakistan on holiday. I was excited. Then two months passed and it was time to start the school year. I asked my uncle when I should go back and he just kept saying, stay a bit longer for weeks. After four months, he came up to my room with a gun and told me I had to marry my cousin.”

“I kept refusing, but he told me that if I didn’t do it he would kill my brothers. I was terrified but felt I had no choice. On my wedding night my cousin raped me. I thought my cousins were family. It felt so wrong. He raped me every night for three years. I felt I was a sex worker, stuck in that room. I was ashamed,” she added.

After three years of torture, Khan was granted a divorce by a local Pakistani court and returned to the UK in 2008. The 26-year-old is now working with schools in collaboration with the organisation It’s My Right: No Forced Marriages, to fight the issue of forced marriages.

Recalling her story, Khan stated, “I have tried to take my life so many times since. I saw myself as the type of person who would get married, have children and be happy. But I haven’t been able to be with anyone ever since.”

She has also urged the British government to take action to protect girls who are sent abroad and later forced into marriage.

“I don’t think they understand Asian communities. In Muslim families honour is incredibly important. His brother lives nearby and every time he walks past my house he spits.”

Khan further claimed that her brothers too, failed to support her. “Even my brothers aren’t supportive. I went to Women’s Aid but the Asian women there know my family. If I talked to them, they would tell them. “

“In Muslim culture, the girl is supposed to do as she is told. The backward people from villages in Pakistan think they can do what they want with us. Our lives mean nothing. We are just a way to get a visa. They will do anything to get someone over here. If they’ve family abroad, they gain respect,” Khan added.

*Name changed to protect victim’s identity


Samia Shahid death: Victim’s first husband and father in court

This article originally appeared on the BBC News Website, 13 August 2016.


Samia Shahid, 28, from Bradford, died while visiting relatives in Pandori in Northern Punjab

The father and first husband of a woman who was allegedly murdered in a so-called honour killing in Pakistan have appeared in court.

Samia Shahid, 28, from Bradford, died last month in Northern Punjab where she was visiting relatives.

Ex-husband Choudhry Muhammad Shakeel was arrested on suspicion of murder. Her father Chaudhry Mohammad Shahid has been held as an accessory to murder.

Both appeared in court in Pakistan and have been remanded for four days.


Samia Shahid with husband Syed Mukhtar Kazam

The pair, who are being held while investigations continue, were shackled and had their faces covered as they appeared in court in Jhelum.

Ms Shahid’s relatives had initially claimed she died of a heart attack, but her husband, Syed Mukhtar Kazim, claims she was the victim of a so-called honour killing.

A post-mortem examination has since confirmed she died as a result of being strangled, police say.

Mr Kazim, who is Ms Shahid’s second husband, believes his wife was killed because her family disapproved of their marriage.

Shaimaa Khalil, BBC Pakistan Correspondent – In Jhelum

The police car which brought them to the court was surrounded by journalists. I got as close as I could to them to see if they would comment but they did not.

The media were barred from entering the courtroom and the hearing could not have lasted more than two minutes with the judge remanding them in custody for four days while the investigation into Samia Shahid’s murder continues.

Police say Samia died of asphyxiation.


Bradford woman Samia Shahid’s Pakistan death ‘was murder’

This article originally appeared on the BBC News website, 26 July 2016


Samia Shahid, 28, from Bradford, died last week during a visit to relatives in Pandori in Northern Punjab.

The husband of a woman who died in Pakistan believes she was killed after being threatened for marrying against her family’s wishes.

Samia Shahid, 28, from Bradford, died last week during a visit to relatives in Pandori in Northern Punjab.

Her father, Muhammad Shahid, has denied the murder claim. Her family claims she died from natural causes.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has confirmed her death and West Yorkshire Police is investigating how she died.

Samia Shahid had previously been harassed by a family member in Bradford last September, the West Yorkshire force has confirmed.

Officers went to an address and the offender received a warning, the BBC has been told.

‘They were threatening us’

Bradford West MP Naz Shah is also investigating Ms Shahid’s death.

“I’m not going to rest until I’m satisfied I know the cause of her death – we need to investigate it fully,” said Ms Shah, who has written to the prime minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, calling for Ms Shahid’s body to be exhumed.

“It’s very suspicious circumstances,” she added.


Syed Mukhtar Kazam said he asked his wife not to stay in Pakistan

Husband Syed Mukhtar Kazam, said that before she went to Pakistan, his wife’s family had threatened her life.

“They were threatening us because she got married out of the family with her own will and they didn’t like it”, he told the BBC.

He said his wife had gone to Pakistan because she thought her father was ill.

Syed Mukhtar Kazam said he asked his wife not to stay in Pakistan and waiting for her to come home “was the longest week of his life”.

“She was naïve. She always thought about other people, not herself, maybe that’s the reason she got killed”, he said.

Syed Mukhtar Kazam said he heard from her family that his wife had died of a heart attack after travelling from Dubai to Pakistan.

He is calling for another post-mortem examination to be carried out.

Marriage certificate

“I still think there’s something dodgy behind it”, he said.

Muhammad Shahid, who denies the murder claim, has also said he does not know who Syed Mukhtar Kazam is.

Tabraz Akhtar, an uncle of Samia Shahid, said the family was going through “a hard time”.

“This person pretending to be her husband – that is wrong,” he said.

“That looks like a sham marriage, she’s married from Pakistan to her cousin.”

However, the BBC in Islamabad has seen a UK marriage certificate for the couple.

The couple was married in Leeds two years ago, after Samia Shahid divorced the cousin she married in Pakistan, the BBC understands.


Pakistan: Mother ‘burnt her daughter to death’ over marriage

This article originally appeared on the BBC News website, 8 June 2016.


Zeenat Rafiq, pictured here on her marriage certificate, wed Hassan Khan last week

Police in the Pakistani city of Lahore have arrested a woman suspected of murdering her daughter for marrying without family consent.

Police say the body of Zeenat Rafiq shows signs of torture. She was doused with fuel and set alight.

Her mother Parveen is accused of luring her back from her in-laws.

It is the third such case in a month in Pakistan, where attacks on women who go against conservative rules on love and marriage are common.

Last week a young school teacher, Maria Sadaqat, was set on fire in Murree near Islamabad for refusing a marriage proposal. She died of her injuries.


Maria Sadaqat suffered burns all over her body and died three days later

A month earlier village elders near Abbottabad ordered the murder of a teenage girl who was burnt to death because she helped a friend to elope, police said.

Zeenat Rafiq, who was 18, had been burnt and there were signs of torture and strangulation, police told BBC Urdu. A post mortem examination may establish if she was still alive when she was set on fire.

Police Superintendent Ibadat Nisar said officers were looking for her brother who is “on the run”. Her mother was found in the house with the body.

“Her mother has confessed to the crime but we find it hard to believe that a 50-year-old woman committed this act all by herself with no help from the family members,” he said.

Neighbours contacted authorities after hearing screaming, but Ms Rafiq was already dead by the time police arrived, BBC reporter Saba Eitizaz says.


Hassan Khan said his wife’s family had “lured her back”, promising a wedding reception

Ms Rafiq and her husband, Hassan Khan, married a week ago through the courts after eloping. They went to live with his family.

“When she told her parents about us, they beat her so severely she was bleeding from her mouth and nose,” Mr Khan told BBC Urdu.

“Her family lured her back, promising reconciliation and a proper wedding reception. She was afraid, she said ‘they are not going to spare me’. She didn’t want to go but my family convinced her. How were we to know they would kill her like this?”

Attitudes ‘unchanged’

Nearly 1,100 women were killed by relatives in Pakistan last year in so-called honour-killings, the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) says. Many more cases go unreported.

Violence against women by those outside the family is also common.

Najam U Din, a joint director of the HRCP, said that societal attitudes had not changed in line with greater education and freedom for young women.

“So when women become more assertive, more reluctant to be content with submissive survival within the family – for example when they insist on studying further, or when they want to take independent decisions about themselves – then the society does not allow it.”


Activists demanded an end to gender-related violence on International Women’s Day in March

Protests over new law

Punjab province, where the two latest attacks happened, passed a landmark lawin February criminalising all forms of violence against women.

However, more than 30 religious groups, including all the mainstream Islamic political parties, threatened to launch protests if the law was not repealed.

The Council of Islamic Ideology, which advises the government, then proposed making it legal for husbands to “lightly beat” their wives. It was criticised as a result.

Religious groups have equated women’s rights campaigns with promotion of obscenity. They say the new Punjab law will increase the divorce rate and destroy the country’s traditional family system.



Boy aged eight among known potential victims of forced marriage in UK

This article originally appeared on The Guardian website, 20 April 2016 

By Josh Halliday

Police figures obtained by the Guardian show only a fraction of investigations into forced marriage result in a prosecution


Figures show 44% of calls to an official helpline involved forced marriages in Pakistan and 14% were about cases in the UK. Photograph: Sanjeev Gupta/EPA

A boy as young as eight is among scores of children feared by judges to be at risk of forced marriage as official figures reveal police are struggling to bring cases to court.

The schoolboy – thought to be one of the UK’s youngest known potential victims of forced marriage – is among 71 children, teenagers and women in West Yorkshire guarded by special court orders since 2014.

His case came to light as police figures, obtained by the Guardian, showed that only a fraction of investigations into forced marriage result in a prosecution. Many are dropped because victims are too scared to give evidence against their abuser.

In West Yorkshire, five of the 51 cases investigated since June 2014 resulted in a suspect being charged.Thirty-five of these investigations were dropped due to “evidential difficulties”, of which 16 were “victim-based” problems, the figures show.

There was a similar pattern in the West Midlands, where 19 of its 31 investigations resulted in no charges – eight because the victims did not support further action. There has been one conviction so far under a new forced marriage law introduced in June 2014.

In that case, a businessman secretly filmed a devout Muslim woman taking a shower to blackmail her into becoming his second wife.

The 34-year-old from Cardiff was sentenced to 16 years in prison for charges including rape, bigamy, voyeurism and the new offence of forced marriage.

Met Commander Mak Chishty is the national police lead for forced marriage and honour-based violence. Photograph: Linda Nylind for the Guardian

Met Commander Mak Chishty is the national police lead for forced marriage and honour-based violence. Photograph: Linda Nylind for the Guardian

The figures have prompted Britain’s most senior Muslim police chief, Commander Mak Chishty, to warn that forced marriage was massively under-reported as he urged members of the Muslim community to “no longer deny” its existence and come forward.

In an interview with the Guardian, Chishty said: “My message to the community and to victims is I recognise it’s under-reported, I recognise it’s going on. I need you – through friends, family, teachers – to come and tell me and my colleagues in policing so we can help.

“I also appeal to the wider community to say actually this practice is out of date, it is abuse and it must be stopped. That doesn’t mean not practising your religion, this means conforming with human rights.”

Chishty, who is the national police lead for forced marriage and honour-based violence, urged the Muslim community to help “eradicate this form of abuse through education, through a practice where they no longer deny it but accept it’s taking place and counter it together”.

“It’s not about disrespecting any culture – I myself am from a Muslim Pakistani background – but this is about a human being, their human values, their human rights and us being able to protect them.”

Aneeta Prem, the founder of the Freedom charity, which supports forced marriage victims, described as “horrendous” the need for courts to step in to protect boys and girls as young as eight. “It’s child abuse and it’s sexual abuse and we’ve got to stamp it out and not be afraid to talk about it,” she said.

The criminalisation of forced marriage – under the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 – was designed to give victims the confidence to come forward and protect thousands of people each year.

Of the seven forces that supplied figures under the Freedom of Information Act, West Yorkshire had launched the highest number of investigations into forced marriage with 51, ahead of 31 in the West Midlands, seven in Greater Manchester and five in South Yorkshire. Britain’s biggest police force, the Metropolitan police in London, refused to supply figures on cost grounds.

Courts have granted as many as 800 forced marriage protection orders in England and Wales since 2014, resulting in the prevention of some victims being taken out of the country by their relatives.

However, campaigners believe many of these cases should result in criminal prosecutions.

Prem said: “If someone’s got the courage to come forward and report a forced marriage and get a forced marriage protection order, that should follow through to prosecution if that’s what’s needed to protect the most vulnerable in society.

“The police are doing a lot of work to get that many [forced marriage protection] orders out, so that’s very positive, but how many are leading to prosecution? Zero.”

There is little evidence that the problem is on the wane. Karma Nirvana, a charity that supports victims, said its helpline dealt with more than 6,700 calls about forced marriage and honour-based violence last year, with its busiest months during the school holidays.

Last year, the charity came across 190 pregnant victims of forced marriage, of which seven were aged under 15. In a two-month period at the end of last year, teachers referred 36 students to its helpline from 14 schools, including 11 from one school in Birmingham the day after the charity gave a presentation.

ChildLine said it handled a 30% increase in calls about forced marriage last year, more than half of which were from children aged 15 or under with some as young as nine.

The government’s forced marriage unit dealt with 1,220 cases last year, a figure that has been in steady decline since 2009.

More than a fifth of these cases were in London, according to government figures released last month, with the West Midlands accounting for 14% and the north-west of England 10% of forced marriage cases.

Nearly half of the calls – 44% – to the government helpline involved forced marriages in Pakistan, but 14% concerned cases within the UK.

Natasha Rattu, Kama Nirvana’s head of learning who trains police forces across England and Wales on how to spot the signs of forced marriage, said not all forces were well-equipped to tackle the problem.

“It’s a postcode lottery. You get areas that do very well and others that don’t. There’s a degree of ignorance and uncertainty about how to deal with it. Some officers fear being perceived as racist or politically incorrect,” she said.

“We have this fantastic legislation but not all officers are aware of it. We know from our national helpline that some of the force areas that appeared in the HMIC [Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary] report to be prepared, are not so prepared in reality.”

Rattu said police should consider where it would be appropriate to bring victimless prosecutions, where cases are brought to court even if the victim withdraws the complaint or does not wish to give evidence.

DS Darren Minton, of West Yorkshire police, said forced marriage was a priority for the force and that it was encouraging that more people had come forward over the last year.

He added: “In these types of cases, the views of the victim are taken seriously as to whether to prosecute and can ultimately be a deciding factor. We often see that victims do not want to prosecute their family, but our aim is to make sure the victim has the necessary support and above all, is safe.”

A Home Office spokesman said: “We made forced marriage a criminal offence in 2014 and we are encouraged by the first conviction secured in June last year, but there is still work to be done. We are committed to ensuring that victims have the confidence to come forward, which is why, following consultation with partners, we will look to bring forward legislation to afford victims of forced marriage the same lifelong anonymity we have introduced for victims of FGM [female genital mutilation].

“We will continue to work with the police and Crown Prosecution Service to review implementation of the offence and lead efforts to tackle this abhorrent crime.”