Forced marriages are becoming so common in Britain that the government has put the country’s airport workers on watch for signs of the problem among young women and men. A charity for victims of abuse and forced marriages has found a creative way for victims to escape such a fate, one that takes advantage of the fact that the forced marriages rarely happen within the country.
The U.K.-based charity Karma Nirvana is urging victims of forced marriage to put a spoon in their underwear before they go to the airport to be flown off to their family’s homelands to meet their new spouses. The spoon will cause metal detectors at the airport to beep; victims will be taken away from their parents to be searched, giving them one last chance to alert airport authorities that they are being forced into marriage.
Natasha Rattu, Karma Nirvana’s operations manager, said that tricks like the spoon in the underwear are essential to help victims avoid arranged marriages because it is often impossible for them to safely stand up to their families.
Karma Nirvana gets about 6,500 calls per year from people worried that they are being forced into marriage, though that number is growing as the charity raises awareness about the issue. Last year, Britain’s Foreign Office’s Forced Marriage Unit dealt with about 1,500 cases of forced marriage.
Most forced marriages in Britain occur among residents of South Asian countries, with nearly half the forced marriages documented in Britain among Pakistani families, with Bangladesh, India and Afghanistan among the other most common countries of origin.
The marriages are most common during the summer holidays, when the victims — more than four out of five of whom are girls or young women — will be taken back to their homelands for "vacation," only to meet a man they may never have seen before who they will be forced to marry.
“The holidays are a really good time for young people to go missing because there is nobody accounting for where they are at school," Rattu said.
Since Ramadan ended last week, calls have risen again, including one from an 18-year-old who has is pregnant and her family is trying to force her into marriage to conceal it.
The charity is also working with airport officials in Britain to educate them about potential signs of forced marriage, including one-way tickets, travelling during the summer, whether the travellers look uncomfortable and, of course, whether they have spoons in their underwear.
When petrified youngsters call, "If they don't know exactly when it may happen or if it's going to happen, we advise them to put a spoon in their underwear," Rattu said.
"When they go through security, it will highlight this object in a private area and, if 16 or over, they will be taken to a safe space where they have that one last opportunity to disclose they're being forced to marry," she said.
Refusal to marry can lead to abuse from family members and honor killings, as one woman told reporters that her father warned her that if she tried running away to avoid her marriage, he would find her and kill her.