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Girls & Women

A Third More British Girls Are Being Forced into Marriage Abroad

Why Global Citizens Should Care
Last year 1,196 cases of possible forced marriage were reported to the UK government’s Forced Marriage Unit (FMU). But as a leading charity has claimed the problem is getting worse, it’s become front page news. Take action on forced marriage here.

On Monday, the Independent ran a front page story about forced marriage — and how it’s only getting worse for British girls and women.

Karma Nirvana, a leading charity supporting survivors of forced marriage, told the Independent that a third more girls are being sent abroad for arranged marriages ahead of the summer holidays.

The nonprofit recorded 150 cases of forced marriage between May and July — up from 99 cases in the same period in 2015.

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And the problem particularly flares up at the start of the summer holidays — as parents use the months away from school to take their children abroad. Karma Nirvana stated that cases increased by 40% at that time — at a rate of two a day throughout July, over double the average seen between January and April.

And, tragically, thousands may not return to school at all, it warned.

“There will be thousands of children across Britain that are now being prepared for engagements and forced marriages in Britain and will be taken out of this country over the summer break,” said Jasvinder Sanghera, Karma Nirvana’s founder and CEO, who escaped forced marriage herself aged 16. “The family use the opportunity of this long holiday to marry them off.”

“We have heard of cases where people are engaged or married and just think it is a party, and do not realise until afterwards,” she continued. “When it comes to September, teachers will notice they are missing but the alarm bell will not necessarily ring because the first person to be alerted are the parents, who will often say they are being educated abroad. The parents are the perpetrators of the crime of forced marriage. The parents' story will be heard and the victims' will not.”

Read More: There Were Nearly 1,200 Forced Marriage Cases in the UK Last Year

Last year there were 1,196 cases of possible forced marriage reported to the UK government’s Forced Marriage Unit (FMU). Nearly a third of sampled cases involved a survivor under the age of 18 — and the youngest was just two years old. Since 2012 the FMU has supported between 1,200 to 1,500 cases every year.

However, the real number is likely to be far higher as most cases go unreported. In 2017 the Home Office described forced marriage as a “hidden crime” and “may not reflect the full scale of the abuse.”

“Even government say that we are dealing with the tip of an iceberg,” Sanghera added. “We are seeing just a scratch on the surface.”

It’s been illegal to force somebody to get married in the UK since 2014. Even if the marriage happens overseas, it’s still punishable by up to seven years in jail.

The first conviction in England for forced marriage took place on May 22 this year after a court found a Birmingham mother guilty of tricking her 17-year-old daughter into travelling to Pakistan to marry a 33-year-old man. And in Wales, a 34-year-old man from Cardiff was convicted of forcing a woman to marry him in 2015.

Sanghera said that schools often ignore her outreach work, despite positive results with presentations often leading to an increase in disclosures. Teachers are often not trained to deal with forced marriage, she said.

Read More: The Startling Reason Forced Marriage Reports in the UK Dropped by 37%

“The UK is a world leader in tackling the horrendous crime of forced marriage, and work to tackle it is an integral part of our cross government violence against women and girls strategy,” said a spokesperson from the Home Office. “We continually work with charities and police to highlight this important issue to the public and the work being done to tackle it, via the media, and community engagement.”

“[The] Border Force, the police and other agencies also regularly work together to raise awareness of harmful practices, including forced marriage, through joint operations aimed at individuals travelling to or from the UK, to countries where these practices are prevalent,” they added.


Concerned adults can call the NSPCC helpline on 0808 800 5000; young people can call Childline on 0800 1111.

The FMU’s helpline is also available from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, and can be reached on 020 7008 0151, or overseas on +44 (0)20 7008 0151. An out-of-hours service is provided by the FCO’s Global Response Centre, based in the UK, which can be reached on 020 7008 1500. The helpline can also be contacted on fmu@fco.gov.u