UK school has a ‘spoon’ solution to marriages forced by desi parents

A school in England has devised a novel way to prevent UK-born children being taken to India and other Asian countries and being forced into marriages — it is handing out spoons to be hidden inside undergarments and thus trigger metal detectors at airports.

Harinder Kaur from the Co-operative Academy in Leeds has urged pupils to hide the cutlery in their undergarments if they fear they are being taken overseas to be married. It will trigger metal detectors at airports, allowing them to raise the alarm with security staff privately.

British authorities deal with several cases of forced marriages in India and other countries, when parents take children on the pretext of a holiday or meeting relatives, and then force them into marriage with local partners for family honour or visa reasons.

In 2017, the Forced Marriage Unit in the Foreign Office dealt with 82 cases linked to India. Figures released by the FMU in May showed that India was among its top four countries of focus during 2017 with 82 cases. The other countries on the list were Pakistan (439 cases), Bangladesh (129) and Somalia (91).

Kaur told BBC that the spoons can “save lives…In the six-week holidays we know there is no contact between school and the family and families have that opportunity to go abroad, get their child married and come back. It’s a way of making our children aware there is a safety net”.

She said that 80% of UK forced marriages happened abroad during the summer holidays.

“The proportion of cases linked to India in 2017 was similar to 2016. There was a higher proportion of older victims as well as male victims this is most likely due to the fact that many of these cases were reluctant sponsors,” a statistical of the FMU note said.

It noted that the cases are not broken down by religion: “(No) major faith in the UK advocates forced marriage. It is also important to note that freely given consent is a prerequisite of Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim and Sikh marriages.”

Of the 82 India-linked cases, the largest number – 29 – were reported from London, followed by the West Midlands (14) and the East Midlands (12), which have a large population of Indian origin in cities such as Leicester, Wolverhampton and Birmingham.

Official sources say a forced marriage is one in which one or both spouses do not (or, in the case of some adults with learning or physical disabilities or mental incapacity, cannot) consent to the marriage and violence, threats, or any other form of coercion is involved.

“Coercion may include emotional force, physical force or the threat of physical force, and, financial pressure. In an arranged marriage, both parties have consented to the union but can still refuse to marry if they choose to,” the statistical note said.

The pressure put on people to marry against their will can be physical (including threats, actual physical violence and sexual violence) or emotional and psychological (for example, when someone is made to feel like they’re bringing shame on their family). Financial abuse (taking your wages or not giving you any money) can also be a factor.

Set up in January 2005, the FMU operates both inside the UK, where support is provided to any individual, and overseas, where consular assistance is provided to British nationals, including dual nationals.

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