Scores of children are at risk of forced marriage in the UK because police are having trouble bringing such cases to court, new research has revealed.

A Guardian investigation has found that West Yorkshire has launched the highest number of inquiries into forced marriages (51), followed by the West Midlands (31), Greater Manchester (seven) and South Yorkshire (five). The Met Police in London refused to answer the newspaper’s request for information on cost grounds.

Since 2014, 71 women, teenagers and children in West Yorkshire have been guarded by special court orders. And five of the 51 cases looked into since June 2014 actually resulted in someone being charged. In all, 35 were dropped because of evidential difficulties, 16 of which were victim-based.

Such figures have led Commander Mak Chishty, the most senior Muslim police chief in Britain, to stress the fact that forced marriage is massively under-reported and those in the Muslim community should not deny its existence any more.

He urged people 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.”

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