LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Victims of forced marriage will be more likely to speak out after Britain said it would allow anonymous tipoffs to cut illegal immigration and help the thousands made to wed against their will, charities said on Wednesday.
“We already have some of the toughest laws in the world against these crimes. But we need to do more,” said Britain’s interior minister Sajid Javid.
“When women have the courage to come forward, and inform us that they have been forced to sponsor a spousal visa against their will, we will not only protect their anonymity, but we will also do everything we can to deny and revoke that visa,” Javid told a political conference on Tuesday.
He spoke as anti-immigrant sentiment runs high in Britain, with politicians touting a range of patriotic policies after the Brexit vote revealed a widespread “Britain first” mentality.
The proposed change could make it harder for would-be immigrants to enter Britain under the cover of marriage.
Charities representing people forced to wed against their will said the change might also help protect victims.
The government’s Forced Marriage Unit received reports of nearly 2,000 possible cases last year, many involving girls from South Asian backgrounds.
Campaigners say the figure is just the tip of the iceberg.
“Many victims do not report forced marriage,” said Natasha Rattu, executive director of Karma Nirvana, which supports people forced to marry. “This is largely down to the fact that by doing so, the potential spouse and family will be alerted.”
“This can increase potential risk of harm and likelihood of being disowned and ostracized from the community,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Immigration rules currently require victims to write a public statement if they wish to revoke their spouse’s marriage visa, which could expose victims to domestic violence, homelessness and family rejection, charities say.
The Home Office (interior ministry) said it would now allow forced marriage victims to notify authorities in secret in order to stop their spouses from entering or staying in the country.
“We have campaigned to see this change and are pleased that victims can report while protecting their identity,” said Aneeta Prem, head of Freedom Charity, which helps those coerced to wed.
“Having spoken to many of the very vulnerable victims, they said if this was available (sooner), they would have used it and prevented the abuse they received at the hands of their husbands they were forced to marry,” she said.
The Times reported in August that visas were granted in almost half of 88 cases last year where victims, officials or others had raised fears of forced marriage.
Support groups said the ability to report anonymously could encourage more victims to speak out without fear of repercussions from their families or spouses.
“By allowing victims to report forced marriage anonymously not only increases potential reporting levels, but provides better protection to victims,” Karma Nirvana’s Rattu added.
The Home Office also said it would consult on plans to make it mandatory for professionals to report a forced marriage, in line with the procedure covering other illegal practices, such as female genital mutilation.
Britain banned forced marriage in 2014, although there have only been two convictions since the law was passed.