Special Report: Police help save girls from forced marriage and rape

Suzanne Bluck on forced marriages
Suzanne Bluck on forced marriages

Court orders are being sought to protect Sheffield girls due to be sent abroad and forced to marry men they have never met, where rape, pregnancy and servitude will become a way of life

Ancient family traditions are being thrust upon Sheffield girls, who are being sent abroad against their wishes or naively unaware of the hell of forced marriage which awaits them when they arrive.

It is under-reported because girls are afraid to speak out’

In a clash of cultures, girls born in Sheffield, educated in Sheffield and leading settled lives in Sheffield, are being taken abroad to marry – often against their will and to ‘husbands’ they have never met before.

Some girls know their fate and are pressured into marrying for fear of bringing shame upon their families, but others travel abroad unaware that they may never return, having been promised as a bride since birth or for money.

The practice is illegal in Britain, but common in a number of countries, including Pakistan and Bangladesh, and police forces across the country know girls are being forced to marry against their will and are being subjected to rape.

Vastly under-reported, because of children too afraid to disobey their parents for fear of becoming outcasts, South Yorkshire Police admit the scale of the issue is impossible to quantify, but know Sheffield youngsters have gone abroad to marry without having a choice.

Cases dealt with in Sheffield include girls who were only allowed back to the city once they were pregnant.

Officers in Sheffield have dealt with forced marriages in Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Yemen, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Libya over the years. They say both girls and boys can be victims.

Working alongside partner agencies, including education and health providers, there are systems are in place to help the police identify those at risk.

Detective Sergeant Suzanne Bluck said a drop off in attendance at school, youngsters running away from home, self harming or attempting suicide are red flags to those tasked with keeping Sheffield children safe.

Children suddenly being taken out of school, suffering from mental health issues and being spotted with physical injuries can also be warning signs.

DS Bluck said girls have been known to have been atattacked in their own homes by their parents or older siblings for failing to ‘comply with the code of honour present within some families’.

To protect those at risk, the force obtains ‘forced marriage protection orders’ at court, which make it illegal for families to force children to marry.

Two were recently granted for girls aged 15 and 17, and Sheffield Council records show 18 children in Sheffield have been ‘safeguarded’ over the last three years to prevent them being forced into marriages.

Similar orders have been issued in Sheffield for children deemed at risk of female genital mutilation in another clash of cultures, where a barbaric practice illegal in this country is still performed abroad.

DS Bluck said: “It is very much under-reported because girls are afraid to speak out for fear of being disowned by their families but we know it is happening.

“It is a massive issue if girls report this, with disownment expected, so the vast majority will go through with it so not to upset their families.

“The men they are forced to marry could be a cousin or a distant relative, and very often is somebody they have never met before.

“With some of those who suspect or know what is planned for them, we see instances of them running away, their education suffering, self harming and suicide attempts. Others are unaware that they are to be forced to marry, which inevitably will result in rape and forced childbearing.”

She said today’s generation of teenage girls in Sheffield who will be forced to marry will have been born and raised in the city but are still expected to honour an age-old custom from where their forefathers were brought up.

“There is a generation of girls in Sheffield who are well educated and who want to go to university and pursue careers. But once they get to 14 or 15 there is pressure on them to leave education and do what generations before them have done and marry – often people they don’t know,” added DS Bluck.

“This is different to arranged marriage, where two people of a legal age both freely consent. Forced marriage is where somebody has no say and it is against their will.

“Stopping this is about stopping child abuse, rape, forced childbearing and servitude.”

She said although illegal in other countries too, forced marriages often take place in remote, unpoliced communities where unions are not questioned.

“We want girls to know that they have rights and that although going against tradition will be difficult for them, we can help and support them,” added DS Bluck.

She said specialist police officers also work with the charity Karma Nirvana to try to identify those at risk.

The charity was set up in 1993 by Jasvinder Sanghera, who escaped a forced marriage by running away from her home in Derby aged 16. She was disowned by her family and shunned by her community.

DS Bluck said: “They have a survivor helpline so both males and females who may be subject of forced marriage can obtain crucial support.

“I would always advise victims to speak to them, even if they don’t want to speak to police. The priority is the safety of victims.”

Help available for victims of forced marriage

* Forced marriage is where one or both parties do not, or cannot in cases of people with learning difficulties, consent, and pressure or abuse is used.

* In Britain it is recognised as a form of violence against men and women and domestic or child abuse when youngsters are involved.

* The Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 makes it illegal to force somebody to marry and culprits can be jailed for seven years.

* Breaching a Forced Marriage Protection Order is also a criminal offence and offenders face five years behind bars.

* The charities Karma Nirvana and Ashiana both offer help and support to victims and those who fear they are due to be forced to marry.

* Contact Karma Nirvana’s helpline on 0800 5999247 or Ashiana Sheffield on 0114 255 5740.

* Call South Yorkshire Police on 101.