West Midlands shamed over shocking toll of forced marriages
The West Midands is today shamed as being a hotspot for illegal forced marriages, with nearly 400 frantic calls for help from victims made in a single year.
West Midlands Police has recorded 85 suspected forced marriages in the last five years while national charity Karma Nirvana said it had 399 calls for help from the region in 2014.
This year, since January alone, the charity has had 213 such calls.
The region has the second highest level of forced marriage in the country accounting for 12 per cent of all cases according to an agency set up by the Home Office and Foreign Office.
The shocking figures have emerged as this week saw the first conviction for forced marriage after new legislation introduced one year ago.
Wolverhampton North East MP Emma Reynolds said: “I am concerned about the problem in the West Midlands and I am sure these figures do not tell the full story.
“I expect there are many more out there who remain hidden. I think it was right that the law was changed and hopefully the first successful conviction will show people will be punished for this and act as a deterrent.”
West Midlands Police said there had been 85 instances of feared forced marriage flagged up over the last five years.
There were 29 in 2014 – up from 11 the year before. There was 15 in 2012, just seven in 2011, and 23 in 2010. Twelve people were charged in the 85 suspected cases. Five of the victims were male and 11 victims were children.
One of the biggest problems is that victims are taken abroad to be forced into marriage.
The Home Office and Foreign Office’s joint Forced Marriage Unit said 77 per cent of the 1,267 cases in 2014 involved an ‘overseas element’. Cases were spread over 88 countries.
Sergeant Trudy Runham said: “Forced marriage is often linked to sexual offences, domestic abuse and household slavery. West Midlands Police is committed to tackling the issue and has created Team Sentinel to help victims, identify offenders and work with affected communities. Every year it is estimated that between 8,000 and 10,000 people in the UK are forced into a marriage – that’s 30 per day. We have specially trained officers who will guide and support victims.”
Special police unit tackles wedlock against will
West Midlands Police has a special unit to tackle ‘hidden crimes’ such as forced marriage dubbed Team Sentinel.
Officers have identified a growing concern of people with learning disabilities – many without the mental capacity to consent to marriage – being forced into wedlock by parents.
In 2013, almost 100 such cases were investigated by UK police – including 10 in Birmingham and two in Sandwell – but experts suspect the true extent of the problem is far more prevalent.
West Midlands Police Sergeant Trudy Runham, said: “Sometimes people with learning difficulties are being forced into marriage by parents looking to secure a long-term carer for themselves in old age or for their disabled child.
“Another common motivators include trying to gain financial security, to obtain a visa for a non-UK resident, cultural pressures, or even out of a belief that marriage will somehow ‘cure’ the sufferer of their disability.
“I’m in no doubt it’s a vastly under-reported crime because the victims often don’t realise they’re being forced to marry or are easily coerced – and they are reliant on others to spot the signs and raise concerns with police or support groups.
“In many cases the families are receiving social or health care services so one of the aims of the conference is to highlight the issue amongst our council and NHS partners, plus wider communities, and urge them to look out for the signs report any concerns to police.”
The majority of marriages take place in Pakistan, Bangladesh and India but around a fifth happened in the UK.
Sgt Runham added: “Forced marriage is a serious offence and often linked to sexual offences, domestic abuse and ‘household slavery’. West Midlands Police is committed to tackling the issue and has created Team Sentinel to help victims, identify offenders and work with affected communities.
“Every year it is estimated that between 8,000 and 10,000 people in the UK are forced into a marriage – that’s 30 per day. We have specially trained officers who will guide and support victims to help free them from force marriages or take action to prevent one occurring.”