Forced Marriage Victims Abroad Charged Fee to Return to UK by Foreign Office
An investigation found that 82 victims of forced marriage between 2016 and 2017 had to pay for living costs incurred between making distress calls, returning home and airfare. Other victims received loans from the Foreign Office. In order to receive the loan, victims had to give up passports as a condition- until the debt was repaid. A surcharge was also added to unpaid bills after six months.
In 2017, the Foreign Office announced it amended its repatriation policy; meaning British teenagers between 16 and 17 would no longer have to reimburse the costs of their journey home. However, the policy is still in place for people aged 18 and above.
The change came after The Muslim Women’s Network UK highlighted that victims of forced marriage are made to pay in order to return home to the UK. The women’s charity wrote to the Foreign Office on behalf of a British woman who had arrived at a UK embassy in Islamabad in 2014, at the age of 17, seeking to escape a forced marriage.
She was required to surrender her passport before being flown back to the UK, and was required to sign a loan agreement. The victim was billed with the cost of her repatriation from Pakistan, costing £814, and would not receive her passport until she had repaid the loan.
Pragna Patel, founder of Southall Black Sisters charity, stated:
“These are vulnerable women who have been taken abroad through no fault of their own and forced into slavery; they are being asked to pay for their protection. It can’t be right. Protecting victims from forced marriage must be seen as a fundamental right and not a profit-making business.”
Karma Nirvana says government is failing to tackle forced marriage
Jasvinder Sanghera is a campaigner, activist, survivor of forced marriage, and head of leading British Charity, Karma Nirvana. Recently she announced she was stepping down from Karma Nirvana, after 25 years of service.
Jasvinder stated that despite lobbying, many professionals working with vulnerable people and those at risk still treat forced marriage as a cultural issue, rather than child safeguarding.
“The government hasn’t done enough to raise awareness and mainstream the issue. There remains a huge problem with professionals viewing forced marriage as a cultural issue rather than a crime. Many aren’t even aware there is a law.”
“We campaigned for legislation not only to secure convictions but to send a strong message that if you do this in Britain you will be locked up. But none of this has happened. As a result I feel really let down by the lack of leadership.”
So far, there have only been three convictions under forced marriage legislation in England and Wales. However, this does not correlate with the records at Karma Nirvana.
- In 2017, 8,870 calls were taken relating to concerns over forced marriage
- More than 200 calls were taken from or about children under 15
- On average, Karma Nirvana receive 700-800 calls a month to their helpline, with 40% of these calls coming from professionals
Sanghera comments: “This is completely disproportionate when you consider the thousands of reports. Despite the prevalence of this crime, there is still a reluctance to investigate and prosecute.”
Last year alone, the government Forced Marriage Unit, which works with the National Police Chiefs Council, provided support in nearly 1,200 cases.
For more information visit: Karma Nirvana
What does the law state?
What starts out as an arranged marriage can escalate into a forced marriage. Forced marriage is when one or both participants enter into a marriage without giving consent. The wedding is forced under duress from families. Forcing someone into marriage is a criminal offence in the UK, Culture, religion and tradition does not justify abuse: under British Law it is illegal.
Often victims of forced marriage are also vulnerable to honour based abuse, violence and crimes. In honour based abuse, there can be multiple perpetrators from immediate family, and extended family. Usually those within the family also conspire honour crimes.
Forced marriage in the UK is recognised as domestic abuse, child abuse, and a serious abuse of human rights.
- Forcing someone to marry can result in a sentence of up to 7 years in prison.
- Breaching the terms of a Forced Marriage Protection Order can result in a sentence of up to 5 years in prison.
At Ison Harrison, we advise on honour based violence, forced marriage, domestic abuse, female genital mutilation and matters involving children.
Our solicitors have specialist qualifications in dealing with such issues. These cases are always extremely complex, emotionally traumatic and distressing for victims or witnesses to go through.
Parveen specialises in domestic violence, children and care work. She is a Resolution Accredited specialist in Forced Marriages & Domestic Violence. Parveen is also fluent in Punjabi and Urdu.« Go backContact us »