Men who have taken women abroad to enter into forced marriages are being granted visas by the British Home Office, despite victims pleas to block them. Many of these women report being held against their will and even raped.
In the past year, as many as 88 women contacted officials to block the visas of men who had wed and impregnated them against their will, but almost half of the visas were granted nonetheless. Many had been forced to marry in countries like Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and the UAE, where they had children, wanted or not. Having children would, in theory, aid the men seeking visas.
A six-month investigation by The Times revealed some shocking details. Yvette Cooper, chairwoman of the home affairs select committee, said she would demand answers from the Home Office over the findings.
Some of these findings include cases like teenage girl Sana, who describes her condition as “living like a slave” after she was taken to Pakistan, raped and sent home to use her pregnancy to sponsor her husband’s visa. After calling a helpline and begging officials not to let him in, 2 years later, he is legally in the U.K. and Sana’s only way to fight back is to take contraceptive pills in secret.
The findings also show that the government and Home Office were warned repeatedly about the dangers of forced marriage but refused to take action.
Ms. Cooper promises to take her committee’s findings to the table. “Over many years the home affairs select committee has demonstrated the seriousness and scale of the issue,” she explains. “I will be raising these cases with the Home Office to seek explanations on why this has happened and how the warnings in previous reports have not been addressed.”
Experts point out the pattern most forced marriage cases follow: a teenage girl who has grown up in Britain being taken by their families to get married abroad and kept abroad until they are pregnant, where they return to have the baby so it is a British citizen. A visa application is then made by their families for their husbands to join them in Britain. It is not too hard to follow.
Jasvinder Sanghera, founder of charity Karma Nirvana, which supports victims of forced marriage and government adviser, stands with many other charities in the belief that the government has let these victims down. “Even when officials know it’s a forced marriage, they see tradition, culture or religion and they’re reticent to deal with it. […] They are turning a blind eye,” she told the Times.
Other charities suggest that officials fail to block foreign abusers so they aren’t seen as racist. Forced marriage is and has been illegal, so many accuse the Home Office of knowingly handing visas to criminals.
While there were 88 official cases where women attempted to block visas, experts believe that there are thousands of victims too scared to come forward about their abuse. The previously mentioned charity Karma Nirvana receives almost 13,000 calls a year to its helpline. The stark difference between callers and reported cases is hardly a surprise. Not only do victims need to sign a public statement in order to prevent their spouses from entering Britain, a statement that can be viewed by their families and put them in danger, but the Home Office released figures revealing that they approved 47% of visa applications filed by alleged abusers. To a woman or even a teenager weighing the risks of coming forward, those numbers are not promising.
A 2008 report by the Home Affairs Committee demanded that forced marriage victims be allowed to block visas without disclosing their identity. When the issue remained unresolved in 2012, they pressed again. The government dismissed it yet again, saying that a visa applicant “is entitled to know the reasons for the refusal of a visa.” This would mean that the husband of any woman who successfully blocked a visa would know that their wife had done so, putting her in extreme risk.
Aneeta Prem, founder of Freedom, another charity that supports victims of forced marriage, said: “We’ve had a number of cases like this and they go unchallenged. The girls are physically and sexually abused by the men that come over.” These violent abusers are not likely to respond well when they find out their wives have blocked their entry, leaving women afraid to report and in danger if they do.
Rubie Marie was 15 when her family took her to Bangladesh and bid her off. There have been hundreds of cases with victims even younger. The Home Office has an obligation to save these girls. Moreso, these girls have a right to be saved, not just legally but as human beings. And most importantly, they have a right as children who are having their youths stripped away from them.
Victims of forced marriage or those at risk can contact the Forced Marriage Unit, call 999 or contact any of the charities mentioned above.