UK police launch major drive to counter forced marriages

Aditi Khanna, London
Published : 22:07, Jul 18, 2019 | Updated : 22:11, Jul 18, 2019

British police have launched a first-ever national crackdown on forced marriage, dubbed Operation Limelight, to monitor the country’s airports during what is currently the summer school holidays period in the country.
According to official statistics, Bangladesh is the second-most common holiday travel hotspot, after Pakistan, where schoolchildren are likely to be forcibly taken to be married off against their will. The police operation is to focus on flights connecting the UK to Bangladesh, alongside Pakistan and India – the other countries where there is a high prevalence of forced marriage.
The UK’s National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) said the tactics to be deployed will include educating airport and airline staff to spot the signs and increase their confidence in reporting suspicious activity to police. Intelligence will be used to identify and seek victims who are about to leave or have just arrived back in the UK.
“Forced marriage is a violation of human rights. The isolation, threats and violence that victims experience means that this is not something that can be tackled by police alone. That’s why our close partnership with public and third sector organisations during this operation will be key,” said Commander Ivan Balhatchet, NPCC lead for forced marriage.
In May 2019, the Forced Marriage Unit – a joint UK Home and Foreign Office unit – reported that it had provided support for 1,764 cases of suspected forced marriage in 2018 and that cases dealt with came from 74 different countries. A third of cases, 574, involved children under the age of 18. The top three highest rates involved travel to Pakistan with 769 cases, Bangladesh with 157 cases and India with 110 cases.
“Forced marriage is a hidden crime, so the numbers are likely to be higher. A forced marriage is one which one or both spouses do not, or cannot, agree to. Violence, threats and coercion are often involved. It is different from an arranged marriage where both parties can refuse to marry if they choose to,” NPCC said.
Forced marriage was made a specific criminal offence in the UK's Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, however other offences may also apply, like violence and coercive control.
Last year, a British Bangladeshi couple who tricked their teenage daughter into travelling to Bangladesh in an attempt to force her to marry her first cousin were sentenced to a total of eight years in jail by a UK court, becoming the first of such cases of imprisonment for forced marriage.