A House of Commons inquiry has said the Government must intervene after it emerged schools in Birmingham had refused to display a poster raising awareness of forced marriage.
Children should be taught about forced marriage, domestic violence and “honour” violence as part of the statutory school sex and relationships curriculum, MPs said.
The report published on Thursday by the Home Affairs Select Committee named Birmingham, Derby and Leeds as areas where schools avoided discussing forced marriage “for fear of upsetting parents or the local community”.
It followed a survey by the Department of Children, Schools and Families which found Birmingham schools had failed to display a poster abut forced marriage because it was “too hard-hitting”.
The Government’s forced marriage unit handles around 5,000 enquiries and 300 cases each year involving British people at risk of being forced into marriage overseas. Almost a third of the cases involved people under 18.
The Committee, which includes Black Country MP David Winnick (Lab Walsall North), also called for a review of the law to consider whether there should be a new criminal offence of forcing someone to marry.
The MPs said: “We do not - yet - recommend that forced marriage be made a specific criminal offence, the same way that domestic violence is not a specific criminal offence.
“However, there are strong arguments that it should be, not least those made by survivors themselves.”
They called for a range of further reforms more refuges and housing for women fleeing domestic violence or forced marriages. Immigration officials should conduct private interviews with British people sponsoring visas for husbands or wives from overseas, to ensure they had not been forced into marriage.
Teachers, doctors, police, judges and magistrates should all receive training to help them identify victims of violence or forced marriage, and refer them to appropriate help.
The most important measure the Government could take would be to raise awareness of the problem, the committee said.
“Prevention and early intervention are vital in tackling domestic and so-called honour based violence, and forced marriage.
“Yet education on these issues in schools seems to be at best variable, and at worst non-existent.
“There is no explicit statutory requirement for schools to educate pupils about any of these forms of abuse.
“In the case of forced marriage, some schools seem resistant to allow discussion of the issue, owing to fear of offending parents and communities.”
Domestic violence cost the UK £25.3 billion in 2005/06 in terms of expenses incurred on public services, losses to the economy and costs to the victim, the report said, with the true cost likely to be much higher as not all crimes are reported to police.
The committee noted that about two women are killed every week in the UK by their partner or former partner.
A specialised victim protection programme, similar to witness protection, should be developed for women fleeing so-called honour-based violence, the MPs said.
Marriage visas are still being granted in some cases where the visa sponsor has been forced into the act by his or her family and compelled to sponsor the visa, they went on.
MP Keith Vaz, the committee’s chairman, said: “We recognise that the Government has done a lot over the past few years, implementing new legislation on domestic violence and forced marriage, and introducing specialist courts and independent advocates.
“However, we are still failing victims in different ways - through a shortage of refuge space for those fleeing violent homes, through the ignorance or disbelief of professionals, or by allowing the continued abuse of some of those forced into marriage by granting visas to their spouses.
“We need a shift in focus from the criminal justice system - which only a tiny proportion of all cases ever reach - towards education, prevention and early intervention.”