A number of community safety partners in Hampshire are combining forces this week to support Op Limelight, a police operation at airports nationwide to crack down on Forced Marriage and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) as the school holidays get underway. The six-week break is often used to force young people to get married to someone in their native countries, or to undergo a cutting procedure.
Members of the Constabulary’s safeguarding team, representatives from domestic abuse charity Yellow Door and affected communities, and members of the Police and Crime Commissioner’s office will have a stand at Southampton Airport to raise awareness of Forced Marriage, FGM and other harmful practices, including tips on how to spot the signs and where to find help. Airport staff have also received special training on identifying those vulnerable and at risk.
A forced marriage is one which one or both spouses do not, or cannot, agree to. Violence, threats and coercion are often involved, and it is a specific criminal offence. It is different from an arranged marriage where both parties can refuse to marry if they choose to.
In May 2019 the Home Office’s Forced Marriage Unit reported that it had provided support for 1,764 cases of suspected forced marriage in 2018, with a third of cases, 574, involving children under the age of 18.
Police and Crime Commissioner Michael Lane said: “Whilst arranged marriages are part of a long established cultural tradition based on consent and retaining choice, forcing someone to marry is a violation of their human rights and therefore has no place in our society.
“It is one of the hidden crimes within our communities, and one that can lead to domestic abuse, rape, slavery and murder. And for the person under threat from this coercion, there are risks to mental health, self-harm and even suicide, which is why there is such a need for early intervention.
“Victims are often coerced into keeping silent – it is therefore up to us to be aware of this practice, recognise the signs, and support those that are vulnerable and at risk. It’s only through working in partnership with other agencies and the communities where these practices are still deeply ingrained as part of their culture that we can increase reporting so that we have a true picture of the impact and can direct resources where they are needed most.”
The awareness-raising initiative at the airport follows a letter sent to all schools in Hampshire, the Isle of Wight, Portsmouth and Southampton, asking teachers to help protect young girls who may be at risk of FGM and Forced Marriage especially over the summer holidays by reporting and referring them so that they can be kept safe.