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Spoon in Underwear Helping Avert Forced Marriage in Britain and Beyond

(Photo: Eli Francis)

(Photo: Eli Francis)

One British charity has found an ingenious method of helping airport security staff save potential victims of forced marriage.

Karma Nirvana, a Derby-based organization which supports victims and survivors of forced marriage and ‘honor’-based abuse, came up with the idea of having girls and young woman who believe they may be forced into marriage against their will put spoons in their underwear to clandestinely alert airport security.

The hidden spoons set off airport metal detectors, allowing the girls to be taken away from their parents and searched and giving them an opportunity to notify authorities of their predicament. In many cases, this is the last chance the girl may have to escape what could be a lifelong nightmare halfway across the globe.

“If they don’t know exactly when [forced marriage] may happen or if it’s going to happen, we advise them to put a spoon in their underwear,” Karma Nirvana operations manager Natasha Rattu told Agence France-Presse. “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.”

“We’ve had people ring and [tell us] that it’s helped them and got them out of a dangerous situation,” Rattu added. “It’s an incredibly difficult thing to do with your family around you– but they won’t be aware you’ve done it. It’s a safe way.”

British school summer holidays are peak period for forced marriages. Families from South Asia, the Middle and Near East and North Africa who have emigrated to Britain sometimes cling to cultural traditions that violate human rights and are unacceptable in Western society. Teens, mostly girls age 15-16, are often sent abroad on ‘holidays’ that turn out to be forced marriages.

Karma Nirvana is working in and with various UK airports to spot potential victims of forced marriages, such as one-way tickets, the age and appearance of the passenger and the time of the year of travel.

“These are quite general points, but there are things that if you look collectively lead you to believe something more sinister is going on,” Rattu told AFP.

One woman, whose identity is being concealed for her protection, told AFP she was married off against her will to a man in India. She said her father threatened to track her down and kill her if she attempted to escape her horrific fate.

“I was shipped off with a total stranger,” she said. “That night I was raped by my husband and this abuse continued for about eight and a half years of my life.”

According to the Foreign Office’s Forced Marriage Unit (FMU), there were 1,485 cases in which the agency “gave advice or support related to a possible forced marriage” in 2012. Ages ranged from 2 to 71; 82 percent involved females. The overwhelming majority involved Muslim nations or countries with large Muslim minorities: Pakistan (47 percent), Bangladesh (11 percent), India (8 percent), Afghanistan (2 percent), Somalia (1 percent), Turkey (1 percent) and Iraq (1 percent) were at the top of the UK government list.

‘Izzat,’ a concept of family honor prevalent in Pakistan and northern India that transcends religions, places heavy pressure on young people to marry relatives in countries and cultures that may be extremely foreign to youngsters who grew up in Britain. Those who refuse are threatened with expulsion from their families or even violence and death.

“It really takes a brave person to stand up against their family,” Rattu told AFP.

Rattu said that the number of potential forced marriage cases has risen since the Muslim holy month of Ramadan ended last week.

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