Survivors of forced marriage in the UK are calling for the crime to be treated as a form of modern slavery and for perpetrators to be prosecuted under anti-slavery and human trafficking laws.
One NGO working to help victims of forced marriage, Karma Nirvana, received calls from over 700 children in Britain in 2017. Among these was a 22-year-old British woman seeking advice after she was forced to marry in Pakistan. Her parents were coercing her to work six days a week just so she could meet the required threshold to sponsor her foreign spouse to come to the UK.
Ameera Jamil, a senior call handler, says the NGO has received calls from male victims as well. “Last week we had a call from a man in West Yorkshire who was brought to the UK by his British spouse and was being abused by her family.” The man, who works in catering, had said, “My wife makes me do all the housework and takes my wages.”
In another case, a woman from Morocco was forced to marry a man her brother did business with in Britain. Yet upon arrival in the UK, she learned that the man was gay and was using this marriage as a means to hide his sexuality. He ended up treating her like a domestic servant, forcing her to clean his the offices of his business.
“They treated me like a maid. I was made to eat alone and wasn’t allowed to leave the house except to carry their shopping,” she said.
It was only after one of her husband’s clients, also a Moroccan woman, asked her if she was okay that she was able to mouth “help me” in Arabic, prompting the woman to contact the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation, to help her find refuge.
“This was a typical case of modern-day slavery. Our advisers often see this happen to women from northern Africa, the Middle East or south-east Asia. They come here on a spousal visa but are used for domestic servitude,” said Selma Bayou from IKWRO.
The Guardian reports:
Another survivor has recently published her memoir, Wings, to raise awareness of “honour” abuse and is calling for government policy to recognise forced marriage as a form of modern slavery.
Sunny Angel, who changed her name by deed poll to protect her family’s identity, was treated “as a sex slave and skivvy” by her in-laws in Liverpool after being forced to marry a man with learning difficulties when she was 20.
“The family used us both because they wanted a £10,000 dowry so they could buy a Mercedes with a personalised number plate and a washing machine.” But most of all her mother-in-law wanted a grandson.
“She would stand outside the bedroom door and order her son to have sex with me. He would get violent but he didn’t know what he was doing. He was a victim too. Afterwards he would play with his toy soldiers and ask me: ‘Are you my wife?’”
Angel, now 39, says she has broken the cycle of ‘honor abuse’ so that her own daughter will not have to suffer as she did.
As a survivor, she emphasized that “Forced marriage is not a cultural practice. It’s a form of child abuse and modern slavery and should be investigated and prosecuted as such.”
Chip in and help end modern slavery once and for all.