London, March 31 (IANS) Up to 400 children, including from India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, were coerced into or threatened with marriage in Britain last year, a government report has said.
A girl aged five was the youngest victim, the Daily Mail reported citing figures from the Home Office's Forced Marriage Unit.
Ministers are considering whether to bring in new laws to make it possible to prosecute families who compel children to marry. The maximum penalty could be two years in jail.
The unit's head, Amy Cumming, said: "The youngest of these was actually five years old, so there are children involved in the practice across the school age range."
Cumming said 29 percent of the cases the unit dealt with in 2011 were under the age of 18.
The Home Office said most cases involved families from India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, Turkey and north and east Africa.
There were over 1,500 cases in 2011, compared to 1,618 in 2008, 1,682 in 2009 and 1,735 in 2010.
The cases frequently involve a girl being taken abroad, usually on the pretext of a holiday, then forced to marry a man they have never met in accordance with an arrangement reached by the two families.
A Home Office spokesman said: "Forced marriage is an appalling form of abuse and we are determined to tackle it."
Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone said the government was working closely with charities and other organisations to make forced marriage "a thing of the past".
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