A number of women and girls at risk of forced marriage have avoided going abroad by concealing spoons in their underwear at airport security, according to a campaign group.
Karma Nirvana, a Derby-based charity that supports victims of forced marriage, advises people who ring its helpline to hide a spoon in order to set off metal detectors at British airports. The group says that its recommendation has prevented some women from being spirited overseas.
Last week British ministers warned that young people were at the highest risk of being taken abroad for a forced marriage during the school holidays.
The British government’s forced marriage unit received 400 reports between June and August last year, out of an annual total of 1,500.
No one knows for sure how many Britons are forced into marriage each year. Estimates range from 1,500 to 5,000. More than a third of those affected are thought to be aged under 16.
Speaking to the Agence France-Presse, Karma Nirvana operations manager Natasha Rattu said that when worried youngsters ring the charity’s helpline, “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.”
“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.
Aneeta Prem, founder and president of Freedom Charity, an organization that deals with the prevention of forced marriage through education and training, said summer is a crucial time for children and young adults.
“Children go out of people’s consciousness over summer because they are away for such a long time,” she said. “The victim may think they are going away to a family wedding, not knowing it is actually their wedding. And when they go they are often gone for a long time and don’t come back until they are pregnant.”
Campaigners fear official statistics on the number of forced marriages of UK citizens are just the tip of the iceberg, partly because children do not want to report their parents to the authorities or have little idea where to go for help.
“Nobody knows what the true figure is because so many young victims are terrified of coming forward. But it is definitely much, much higher than what is reported,” Prem said.
Karma Nirvana usually fields 6,500 calls a year from around Britain. This year, it has already reached that number.