Children as young as twelve are seeking help from ChildLine after becoming worried they will be forced to marry against their will.

Latest figures from the 24-hour, free service show the number of contacts - online and phone - about the issue has shot up by two-thirds in the last year, to 141, with some of the victims saying they are suicidal.

Others have been threatened by their families and in one in ten cases there has been violence. The figures come as forced marriage today becomes a crime in England and Wales under the Anti-Social Crime and Policing Bill with a maximum sentence of seven years.

Just over a quarter of the children and young people who contacted ChildLine to talk about concerns around forced marriage were aged 12-15. The majority of the calls and online contacts the service received - 108 - were from girls.

They told how the problem had left them feeling trapped and helpless and were worried it would affect their education and career prospects. Some talked about self-harming and even suicide after becoming trapped in a situation they couldn't control.

Susan Dobson told VoR: "We welcome the Forced Marriage law. It provides protection for young people in a situation where, at times, they have little control over what happens in their life. We believe it will act to protect children.

“While the previous work done did highlight really quite an extensive problem, we know from government statistics that forced marriage still remains an issue with young people of south Asian origin still most at risk.

“We’ve seen over the last year a 70% increase. In 2013-14, we received 141 contacts about forced marriage, compared with about 50 two years previously. So while we’re talking about small numbers, in terms of the increase, it’s actually quite significant.”

(VoR)