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British Girls Being Forced Into Marriage in South Asia to Obtain Visas for Men: Report

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Several British teenagers are being forced to marry abroad in Asian countries due to pressure from families, and the UK authorities are not doing much to prevent their torturing spouses from entering the country, according to a recent report.

British teenagers, being forced into marriages by their families, are also being subjected to abuse, rape and forceful impregnation in a bid to secure a visa for their spouse, the Times reported, based on its investigation. The UK Home Office is also ignoring their plight by giving visas to their husbands, the report added.

Officials came across several reports last year that women who had been forcefully married in countries like Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and the United Arab Emirates, wanted to block visas for their husbands. However, according to records, almost half of such visas were still approved.

Authorities are failing to block such offenders from entering the country because the move may be perceived as racial profiling on their part, the report cited charity organizations and campaigners as saying.  The Home Office is scared of being seen as a racist department, and therefore, knowingly gives visas to such criminals. The victims’ position gets even worse because immigration lawyers may help their families get visas for their husbands without the woman’s knowledge, the report said.

Cases involving such women are often handled by charities working to support victims of forced marriage in Britain. Karma Nirvana, an organization working for women’s rights in the country,  receives around 13,000 calls a year on its helpline.

“We’re seeing this nationally. 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,” Jasvinder Sanghera, the organization’s founder who is also a government adviser, told the publication.

It is also true that many of the victims do not come forward to sign the legal document openly due to fear of the family. But documents obtained by The Times under the Freedom of Information Act show that last year the Home Office addressed 88 such cases, which include those where the victim of forced marriage had come forward, or a case was reported by a third party or an official who suspected a forced marriage.

However, visas were still issued in 42 of such cases. In 10 other cases, a decision is yet to be made or an appeal is being heard.

According to experts, a similar pattern can be seen in all the cases of forced marriages. Families take their teenage daughter, who is brought up in Britain, abroad for marriage, mostly to a South Asian country. Most of them are kept abroad until they get pregnant and then return to the United Kingdom to have the baby so that the child becomes a British citizen. A visa application is then made by their families so that their husbands may join them in Britain.

As per data available with The Times, while a majority of these forced marriages took place in Pakistan, 82 cases happened in India.

“Over many years the Home Affairs Select Committee has demonstrated the seriousness and scale of the issue. I will be raising these cases with the Home Office to seek explanations on why this has happened and how the warnings in previous report have not been addressed,” Yvette Cooper, the chairwoman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, told the publication.

Since 2014, it has been illegal in the United Kingdom to force someone to marry against their wishes using deception, either by taking them abroad or through some other means. Committing these offences can result in prison sentence of up to seven years. Even though authorities can register a case in court against such forced marriages, only three cases in England and Wales have resulted in conviction so far, the report said.

“There are a number of reasons why cases are referred to the Forced Marriage Unit, not all of which are the result of a reluctant sponsor getting in contact. In some cases it will be decided, following inquiries, that no further action is necessary and a visa will be issued,” a spokesman of the Home Office was quoted as saying in the report. “If an individual refuses to act as the sponsor for a visa application then under the immigration rules, that visa should not be issued,” he added.