by LAUREN CODLING
PROPOSALS addressing forced marriage in the UK were outlined by home secretary Sajid Javid at the Conservative party conference in Birmingham on Tuesday (2).
Measures include refusal of spousal entry to the UK where there are signs that a marriage has been forced and helping public-sector professionals identify and support victims.
The move comes after months of criticism against the Home Office, which has been accused of accepting visa applications from men who had forcibly married teenagers abroad. It dealt with 88 cases of forced marriage victims trying to stop visas last year, although almost half were still issued, an investigation found in August.
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).
In 2017, charity Karma Nirvana confirmed it received almost 9,000 calls, including more than 200 from children under 15, related to forced marriage.
Children’s charity NSPCC confirmed its helpline Childline had been contacted by young victims, with 109 counselling sessions on the issue in 2017-18.
Referring to forced marriage as an “appalling crime”, Javid insisted that it would not be tolerated in the country.
“We need to do more,” he admitted, adding that the government planned to consult on
making reporting forced marriage a mandatory duty for professionals.
Javid, the MP for Bromsgrove, also announced that victims’ identity would be protected when they attempted to block a visa.
Campaigners had argued that a lack of anonymity could put victims in danger if their family or spouse found out, making them less likely to seek 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,” Freedom founder Aneeta Prem told Eastern Eye earlier this year.
The home secretary confirmed that the government would do more to protect victims.
“When women have the courage to come forward and inform us that they have been forced to sponsor a spousal visa against their will, we will not only protect their anonymity, but we will also do everything we can to deny or revoke that visa,” he said.
Javid emphasised how the latest plans built on policies already implemented by the government to protect those at risk of forced marriage.
“Supporting victims will be at the heart of these new proposals to give them confidence to speak out, knowing the government is on their side,” he said.
In May, a landmark conviction saw a woman jailed for four and-a-half years after she tricked her 17-year-old daughter into travelling to Pakistan and forcing her to marry an older man. It was the first successful prosecution of its kind in Britain.