Forced mar­riage vic­tims will not have to pay for res­cue by FO

Cyprus Today - - UK -

BRI­TISH women saved from forced mar­riage abroad will no longer have to re­pay the gov­ern­ment for the cost of their res­cue, the For­eign Sec­re­tary said on Wed­nes­day, af­ter a pub­lic out­cry.

Women’s rights cam­paign­ers re­acted an­grily to rev­e­la­tions in the Times news­pa­per last week that the gov­ern­ment was charg­ing adult vic­tims for emer­gency repa­tri­a­tion, with those un­able to cover the cost of their jour­ney made to take out a loan.

“From now on, none of those who are as­sisted by the Forced Mar­riage Unit, and would pre­vi­ously have been of­fered a loan, will have to cover the costs of their repa­tri­a­tion,” wrote Jeremy Hunt, the For­eign Sec­re­tary, an­nounc­ing the change.

“Our treat­ment of vul­ner­a­ble Bri­tons abroad should al­ways be guided by com­pas­sion. I am glad to make this pol­icy change.”

He said those who had al­ready taken out loans would face no fur­ther charges and blocks put on their pass­ports pend­ing full re­pay­ment would be re­moved.

Bri­tain banned forced mar­riage in 2014, al­though there have only been two con­vic­tions since the law was passed.

The gov­ern­ment’s Forced Mar­riage Unit re­ceived re­ports of nearly 2,000 pos­si­ble cases last year, many in­volv­ing girls from South Asian back­grounds, but cam­paign­ers say that is just the tip of the ice­berg.

Char­i­ties work­ing to tackle forced mar­riage wel­comed the change but said vic­tims should never have had to pay for their free­dom.

“I’m ab­so­lutely de­lighted,” Jasvin­der Sanghera, the founder of char­ity Karma Nir­vana, said.

“The shame is it took a news­pa­per in­ves­ti­ga­tion to be in this po­si­tion. It’s not some­thing the gov­ern­ment didn’t know about a long time ago.

“What I hope is that this re­ally does put a spot­light on the is­sue of forced mar­riage and the gov­ern­ment try­ing to think about a plan to­wards pur­su­ing pros­e­cu­tions for these per­pe­tra­tors.”

The Times’ in­ves­ti­ga­tion found some of the 82 vic­tims repa­tri­ated by the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment be­tween 2016 and 2017 were told to pay for their own flights, food and shel­ter.

Vic­tims’ pass­ports were con­fis­cated un­til the loan had been re­paid in full and a 10 per cent sur­charge was added if it had not been cleared within six months, it re­ported.

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