Forced marriages could spike as travel restarts post-COVID-19

“I’ve been held by my ankles over a well, I’ve looked down the barrel of a gun and I’ve had a gun pointed to my head and someone flicking the trigger, like they’re playing Russian roulette.” – Sara (not her real name), a survivor of forced marriage

In a harrowing account for BBC News, Sara recounts how she was forced into marriage when she was just 19 years old, describing her experience as having been “thrown to the wolves” by some of her family members.

Sara traveled to Pakistan with her family for her older sister’s wedding only to be told that she too was expected to marry. After being forced into marriage she stayed in Pakistan for a year where she experienced physical and mental torture and was forced to put any hopes she had for her future on hold, without knowing if she would ever be free to live her life in the way she wanted.

After her visa ran out, Sara returned to Wales without her husband but her ordeal wasn’t over yet. Sara’s father pressured her to continue with her marriage and one day, her husband turned up at her family home.

Eventually, Sara was able to escape and seek support from Bawso, a charity that runs a refuge for survivors of forced marriage in Wales.

Sara told BBC News:

It was absolutely horrific. At the time I was 19, so I was a virgin, and to have your virginity taken away by rape stays with you basically forever.

I went to my father and I told him what was going on, and his reply back to my plea for help was ‘get on with it, this is what happens, get on with it’.

The way I see it was I was thrown to the wolves, because obviously when it was just me and him, he was able to do what he wanted to.

And having to go through experiences like that, knowing that those experiences have only happened to you because of your family – not my family as a whole, a few of the members of my family – it changes you.

Nancy Lidubwi from Bawso warned that as travel restrictions ease, U.K. Border Force should be on high alert for cases of young women being taken abroad for marriage.

“We all just have to be on the lookout. We all have to work collaboratively – schools, social services, police, U.K. Border Agency has got to be looking at young people going out of the country and ask those key questions. Don’t shy away from asking if they see there is a young person and they look like they are under duress and they are travelling with a family out of this country,” she said.

Forced marriage protection orders that provide young people with court protection against being taken out of the country have dropped since 2019 with fewer than five of these orders issued in Wales in 2020 compared to 60 in the preceding year.

Join the call on the U.K. government to criminalize child marriage and better protect young people from being coerced into marriages by family members.

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