West Midlands Police have warned of a rise in forced marriages and honour-based abuse after Covid-restrictions on travel were lifted.
In response to this warning West Midlands Police launched a campaign this month to raise awareness about forced marriages.
The campaign emphasises that an illegal forced marriage is where one or both people getting married do not truly consent.
Since October 11, the red list has been reduced to seven countries. India, Pakistan, South Africa, and Turkey were among those removed from the red list, sparking fears of a rise in forced marriages.
Shaila Pervez is a manager at Roshni, a forced marriage helpline supporting BAME communities.
She said: “Most of the people who come to us for support are predominantly South Asian women, from India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Sometimes very occasionally we get Middle Eastern women as well.”
The move by West Midlands police comes after a report by Save the Children warned COVID-19 had put 2.5 million more girls at risk of early marriage by 2025.
“Every year, around 12 million girls are married, two million before their 15th birthday,” said Kevin Watkins, CEO of Save the Children UK.
“Half a million more girls are now at risk of this gender-based violence this year alone—and these only are the ones we know about. We believe this is the tip of the iceberg.”
Shaila agrees that the work West Midlands Police are doing is beneficial.
She added: “Seeing billboards and TV campaigns on forced marriages can really help to trigger conversations in the family.
“It is important younger family members are safely able to speak about this topic with their parents and older generations and can voice their thoughts and views.
“For some – especially women who may be more at risk from the threat of forced marriage – it takes many years to build courage and confidence to get support.”
West Midlands Police said: “We really do appreciate how difficult it is for victims to speak out – especially when it is their own family putting them at risk.
“We have specially trained officers who will guide and support victims to help free them from forced marriages or take action to prevent one occurring.”
Shaila mentioned some of the signs to look out for in a forced marriage.
“Whenever pressure, abuse, coercion, or violence is used to force a couple into a marriage, this is considered a forced marriage.
“Once married, other crimes, such as rape, can also occur.
“A safe environment needs to be created for women and girls at risk where they can give their opinion, and decline a marriage proposal, often from a stranger or someone who they don’t know or like.
“It’s going to take some time to make changes, but it is not impossible.”
If in need of support, please contact the West Midlands Forced Marriage Helpline which is open 24/7 on 0800 953 9777 or Roshni at 0800 953 9666.