by LAUREN CODLING
VICTIMS as young as 12 have contacted helplines about forced marriage, new statistics
revealed last Friday (3), as the risk increases of teenagers being taken abroad to marry over the summer holidays.
Children’s charity NSPCC confirmed its helpline Childline had been contacted by young victims, with 109 counselling sessions on the issue in 2017-18.
Last month, charity Karma Nirvana stated that 80 per cent of forced marriages involving a Briton happen abroad, with many teenagers disappearing in the summer break from school.
Home secretary Sajid Javid pledged to do more to help abolish the “despicable [and] inhumane” practice from British society.
“We will be doing more to combat it and support victims,” he said last weekend.
“Those who force British women into marriage, be warned we are redoubling our efforts
to make sure you pay for your crimes.”
His comments came after an investigation by The Times last Thursday (2), which highlighted the Home Office’s acceptance of visa applications from men who had forcibly married teenagers abroad.
Home Office officials dealt with 88 cases of forced marriage victims trying to stop visas last year, although almost half were still issued, the investigation found.
Figures from the Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) showed more than 1,000 cases were reported last year, with cases relating to 65 so-called “focus” countries including Pakistan (439), Bangladesh (129), and India (82).
Aneeta Prem, the founder of Freedom charity, believes legislation needs to be changed
so victims can remain anonymous if they attempt to block a spouse’s visa.
Currently, an individual must disclose their identity if they apply to block a visa issued by the Home Office. This means they could be put in danger if their family or spouse finds out, making them less likely to ask for help.
“[The victim] will be in real dire straits if she feels she has no option to support the visa application even if it is wrong,” Prem told Eastern Eye. “What we believe should happen is there needs to be a change in legalisation, so a victim can remain anonymous.”
Sunny Angel, 40, is a survivor of forced marriage. Married in Liverpool when she was 20 years old, the man she wed had learning disabilities. The marriage – where Angel claims she was abused and raped continuously – lasted for five months.
However, after the failure of the first marriage, her parents attempted to arrange another wedding to a man from India.
“It was going to be someone twice my age,” she told Eastern Eye. “People were queuing up, having their own family members wanting to come to England to use me as a ticket for a visa. As victims, we don’t want them here, but nobody is listening.”
Angel, who is now a campaigner against domestic abuse and forced marriage, believes the
government has let down victims.
“They [turned a blind eye] twenty years ago [when I was a victim] and they’re turning a
blind eye now as well,” Angel said. “This is off the scale and just the tip of the iceberg. They know it is happening and more needs to be done. There are so many victims at stake here.”
Prem’s book But It’s Not Fair, a child-friendly novel depicting a young girl being forced into marriage, became part of the national school curriculum two years ago.
In response to the NSPCC findings, she believes that now children have access to information concerning forced marriage, they are more likely to come forward.
“More information has helped younger victims speak out as they understand the issues of forced marriage,” Prem said. She also stated 20 per cent of victims were boys.
In calls to the Karma Nirvana helpline, Ali*, a 39-year-old Pakistani male, revealed he was
forced into marriage when he was 12 in the UK. Since he escaped the marriage, Ali said his family constantly threatened him. He also alleged they assaulted him and caused damage to his property. He claims he has suffered from PTSD in the after affects of the forced marriage.
Another male caller, Nitin*, who lives in Sheffield, said his family was “unhappy” to discover
he was gay. Still living at home, Nitin experienced emotional abuse from his parents who are forcing him to marry a woman.
Polly Harrar, founder of the Sharan Project, a charity which provides support for vulnerable
women, told Eastern Eye she found it “extremely disturbing” to see children as young as 12 being threatened with forced marriage.
She noted the report showed this is an increasing issue that many young people face in the
UK, adding her belief that education has a key role to play in prevention and ensuring young people know their rights.
“It is always difficult to offer support unless someone discloses they are being forced into marriage and equally. It’s important to note that support and funding for specialist services is urgently required to realistically allow victims of forced marriage, and those who have experienced rape/abuse to come forward,” Harrar said.
“More needs to be done to communicate the options available to [victims] to not only increase reporting but to ensure they then have access to appropriate safeguarding options and support services.”
When contacted by Eastern Eye, a spokesperson from the Home Office said victims of forced marriage demonstrated “incredible courage” in coming forward and the ministerial department is committed to continue work in addressing the issue.
“The FMU is working with the National Police Chiefs’ Council to improve the resources and training available to police,” the spokesperson added. “We have significantly strengthened the law on forced marriage, introduced lifelong anonymity for victims and almost 1,600 Forced Marriage Protection Orders have been put in place to safeguard them and, if
needed, assist in their repatriation.”
Earlier this year, a mother who duped her daughter into travelling to Pakistan to enter a forced marriage was sentenced to four and-a-half years in prison. It was the first successful prosecution of its kind in Britain.
Angel, who has written a book Wings about her experiences, said forced marriage should always be regarded as a crime and not a cultural tradition.
“We need to change the mentality of people and the government,” she said. “Crime is crime, it is not cultural. It is nobody’s culture to be abused.”