Police battling to protect people from being forced into marriage are turning to new orders to save youngsters from being taken out of the country.
The Forced Marriage Protection Orders allow police to serve banning orders on families and seize the passports of people they fear may be whisked abroad and married against their will.
West Midlands Police are leading the way, securing nine in the past seven months. A 10th order was granted following an application by social workers in Sandwell.
Fewer than 30 orders have been secured across the whole country.
Details of the orders emerged as figures from the Government’s Forced Marriage Unit showed an increase in people coming forward to seek protection. The number of cases the unit has dealt with has trebled in four years.
Yesterday also saw the publication of guidelines for teachers, doctors and police to help them identify and protect children at risk amid fears of an increase in youngsters confiding in teachers before the school summer holidays.
The Forced Marriage Unit has received 770 calls or e-mails to its helpline so far this year. A total of 82 were from the West Midlands.
The figures show that 70 per cent of reports to the unit involved families of Pakistani origin, 11 per cent were Bangladeshi and a small number were from India, the Middle East, Europe and Africa. The orders came into force last November, aimed at granting immediate protection to victims and controlling the behaviour of relatives trying to force them into marriage.
Officers in Walsall secured the first order for the West Midlands in December 2008 when a judge at Birmingham Family Court issued one to protect a vulnerable man with mental health issues after his carer became concerned he was about to be taken to Pakistan for a wedding.
Det Chief Insp Sue Parker, from the Walsall police public protection unit, said: “Usually these cases involve young people or vulnerable adults being forced into marriage by family members.
“The new legislation is a really positive tool to protect these groups, often from those closest to them.”
Those breaching the order face arrest and a two-year prison sentence.
Det Sgt Wendy Bird, from the force’s Public Protection Support Unit, said the orders were unique in law as victims could go to court and make an application themselves or third parties could do it on their behalf.
Of the 10 cases in the West Midlands, all but one of the victims has been female. Police also take their photographs, DNA and fingerprints to prevent them being taken abroad on forged documents.
“Most forced marriage cases don’t take place in this country. If we can take the passport off the injured party, they can’t be taken out of the country,” she added.
“Then we can put long-term support plans in place. Two of the girls who have forced marriage protection orders are still living at home. We have an involvement with them and they are getting continued support.
“Some families are totally hostile to us, others react differently. Some parents don’t think they are doing wrong and are simply trying to protect the family’s honour.”
She added: “People suffer threats to their life and tell us they think they have no choice because they fear family members are going to kill them if they don’t agree.
“We want them to know they will be believed and taken seriously.”