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Girls & Women

Police Defend the Low Rate of Forced Marriage Prosecutions in the UK

By Sonia Elks

LONDON, July 15 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) — British police defended the low rate of prosecutions for forced marriage on Monday, saying they were using other tools to protect potential victims without forcing them to testify against family members.

The comments came as they prepared to guard against a spike in cases over the school summer holiday in July and August, when the number of girls taken abroad by their families to be married rises.

Just two people have been convicted since Britain banned forced marriage in 2014. But officials said 1,849 anti-forced marriage orders had been put in place in the last decade to warn those planning or preparing the crime to stop or risk arrest.

"We have had a couple of convictions, but I can tell you we safeguard people every day, hundreds of people every day," said detective sergeant Trudy Gittins at a press event in London.

Flight cabin crews have been trained to help identify people who may be at risk of forced marriage or other crimes such as female genital mutilation or modern slavery, officials said.

The number of calls to a specialist unit tackling forced marriage leapt by nearly 50% last year, with officials and campaigners saying the increase was a sign of growing awareness of the issue.

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A conviction last year involving a girl aged just 13 showed the complexities in taking a case to court, said Gittins.

"There's no winners here," she said. "Her mum was the perpetrator ... All she wanted was for the situation to stop, she didn't want her mum to go to prison."

Many victims of forced marriage are told they are simply going to a family holiday or celebration, and only learn the truth once they are already out of the country, said police.

"When you listen to victim they are either told that granny is dying in whatever country, it's a cousin's wedding, or it is someone's funeral," Temporary Chief Superintendent Parm Sandhu told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

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"They literally will arrive and be told on the day they are supposed to be marrying a complete stranger or sometimes a distant relative."

(Reporting by Sonia Elks, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)