Forced marriage is an appalling and indefensible abuse of human rights. Victims can suffer physical, psychological, emotional, financial and sexual abuse including being held unlawfully captive, assaulted and raped.
The Government's Forced Marriage Unit continues to be a global leader in tackling this heinous and abhorrent practice. The latest statistics, published on Thursday, show the unit gave advice or support related to a possible forced marriage in 1,302 cases in 2013. These cases include people or groups of people 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 Forced Marriage Unit is a joint Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and Home Office Unit which was set up in January 2005 to lead on the Government's forced marriage policy, outreach and casework. It operates both inside the UK, where support is provided to any individual, and overseas, where consular assistance is provided to British nationals, including dual nationals.
We know that these figures do not represent the full scale of the abuse and that many more cases are not reported. This is why we are continuing our extensive outreach programme to educate professionals and potential victims, and campaigns to raise awareness of the problem and how we can help. The Forced Marriage Unit attends around 100 awareness and training events each year.
The new data reinforces what we already know about forced marriage - it is an international problem which crosses borders and cultural boundaries and requires a coordinated response to disrupt.
Last year the number of countries from which possible cases were reported increased by around a quarter, from 60 to 74. The top five countries - which accounted for 68.7% of calls - were Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Somalia.
Forced marriage also affects all age groups, although the overwhelming majority of victims or potential victims are aged 21 or younger. Men and boys are targeted, as well as women and girls - 18 per cent of potential cases referred to the FMU in 2013 involved male victims.
The unit's work, from providing advice all the way up to intervening to rescue victims overseas, is invaluable. The UK's role at the forefront of the international response will become further entrenched when forced marriage, and breach of Forced Marriage Protection Orders, become criminal offences under the Anti-Social Behaviour Crime and Policing Bill which is going through Parliament.
We know that legislation alone is not enough, which is why we remain focused on prevention, support, and protection for victims and those at risk of becoming victims. We will continue to raise awareness of forced marriage through the unit's extensive outreach programme. If you suspect it, call them - and you may just save a potential victim's liberty.
We acknowledge putting an end to forced marriage is a difficult task, with many challenges - not least, coordinating concerted action across several continents. But the message from the UK government is clear - forced marriage is totally unacceptable and will not be tolerated.