The Minister for Preventing Abuse and Exploitation has marked the first anniversary of the criminalisation of forced marriage.

A year ago today, forcing someone to marry against their will became a criminal offence with a maximum penalty of seven years’ imprisonment.

The law, designed to help people in England and Wales but also UK nationals overseas, was part of a move to protect against the devastating effects of forced marriage which can involve physical, psychological, emotional, financial and sexual abuse including being held unlawfully captive, assaulted and raped.

This month saw the first conviction under the new legislation and the government has announced their intention to continue to work alongside police and the Crown Prosecution Service to ensure perpetrators are brought to justice.

Minister for Preventing Abuse and Exploitation Karen Bradley said, “We made forced marriage a crime to better protect victims and send a clear message that this brutal practice is totally unacceptable and will not be tolerated in the UK. We also hope that criminalisation will act as a deterrent.

“However, we know legislation alone is not enough and we remain focused on prevention, support, and protection for victims and those at risk of becoming victims.

“The UK is a world-leader in the fight to stamp this out, with our Forced Marriage Unit leading efforts to combat the practice both at home and abroad.”

In 2014, the cross-government Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) provided advice or support in 1,267 cases.

More than one in ten (11%) cases involved victims aged under the age of 16 and nearly a fifth (17%) of cases where age was known involved victims aged between 18 and 21.

However, the government says the full scale of the abuse is not known as many more cases may be going unreported.

Research carried out by the then Department for Children, Schools and Families in 2009 estimated that a national prevalence of reported cases of forced marriage in England was between 5,000 and 8,000.

The criminal offence works alongside Forced Marriage Protection Orders (FMPOs), which provide a specific civil remedy to prevent forced marriage and assist victims where a marriage has already taken place.

FMPOs can be made by a civil court against any individuals suspected of trying to force a victim into marriage.

In 2014 the breach of an FMPO is a criminal offence with a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine.