He said the new offence would be accompanied by a £500,000 package of support and prevention measures to prevent civilisation being forced underground. This will include helping teachers to spot early warning signs and know what action to take, and raising public awareness of the help available.

The existing civil remedy of forced marriage protection orders, which was introduced in November 2008, is likely to continue to exist alongside the new offence. The civil courts had made 293 orders by February 2011. Government research has estimated there are between 5,000 and 8,000 cases a year in the UK.

Currently, the Forced Marriage Unit provides support and advice to people at risk. Between January and May this year, it dealt with 600 cases, of which 14 per cent involved children below the age of 15 years, and 31 per cent involved teenagers aged 16-17 years.