LONDON (Reuters) - Several thousand more British women than previously thought could have been forced into marriage, according to a report on Tuesday.
Government figures showing that several hundred woman, from different backgrounds all over the country, have been forced to marry represent just the "tip of the iceberg", said the report from a parliamentary specialist adviser.
Nazia Khanum's study, commissioned by Margaret Moran, a member of the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, focused on Luton, north of London, and found there had been about 300 forced marriages in that area alone.
But it said the real figure could be closer to 4,000 because of the culture of secrecy and fear in some communities.
"Forced marriage is a serious problem," the report said.
"The government's Forced Marriage Unit deals with 250-300 cases per year. These are the most difficult cases, representing the tip of the iceberg. Many more -- perhaps several thousand -- are not reported."
It found there was a wall of silence surrounding the issue, which meant some authorities did not understand the problem or take it seriously.
"Forced marriage should be recognised as a form of bullying and domestic abuse and tackled in accordance with the normal professional standards and guidance for such cases," it added.
The Home Affairs Committee is currently investigating forced marriages, where victims often do not know their "husband's" identity and have no rights once they marry.
Tuesday's report came a week after children's minister Kevin Brennan told the committee 33 children had vanished from school records in Bradford, perhaps having been taken abroad to marry against their will.
Authorities in 14 high-risk zones were also told to reveal their head-counts of missing children, which authorities fear could treble the official figures.
Those figures are due to be published later on Tuesday.
The report is entitled: "Forced marriage, family cohesion and community engagement: national learning through a case study of Luton." Moran described it as "startling" and called the government figures "woefully inadequate".
(Editing by Stephen Addison)