INSTANCES of children being forced into marrying strangers through Skype ceremonies are becoming a “growing trend,” the head of Freedom charity has said.
Aneeta Prem, who founded the organisation, told Eastern Eye that the practice, which involves Imams conducting Islamic ceremonies over the internet, was the most extreme example of forced marriage she had heard about.
In some cases, the new spouse is promised a visa to the UK before victims, who can be of either sex, are flown to the partner’s country to consummate the marriage. Prem has helped a home-schooled, 11-year-old girl from London who was married on Skype to a 25-year-old man in Bangladesh.
She contacted the charity in November after reading But It’s Not Fair, a fictional account of a child bride, penned by Prem, which her older brother was given at school.
At the time, the girl had not realised the Sykpe call was a marriage ceremony, Prem said. The plan was for her to meet her husband at a later date and fall pregnant.
“Parents are now saying to children, ‘go into your room’ and the laptop is on, and then they find themselves in the middle of a marriage ceremony. The fact is they are at home with their parents, there isn’t anywhere else for them to go,” Prem told Eastern Eye.
“We’ve had a handful of cases, so has the Forced Marriage Unit and other agencies. It’s a growing trend. Parents know if they take their children out of the country they may be spotted or there may be resistance, but this is almost instant.”
Forcing someone into marriage became a criminal act in 2014 but so far, there has only been one conviction. It affects several communities in Britain, but Skype marriages mostly involve Muslim children – other faiths require brides and grooms to be physically present during the ceremony, campaigners said.
Under the relatively new legislation, parents can be convicted of the internet-based offence, and the police are investigating a number of cases, Prem told Eastern Eye.
“We would hope there will be some convictions in the future. But unless anyone has actual proof of it taking place, it’s very difficult – that’s what we’ve been told,” she said.
Prem explained there was less chance of being caught, which is why families were using this unconventional method. It is also carried out in a bid to stop youngsters becoming “too Western”.
Another case where Freedom intervened involved a 17- year-old boy from Birmingham who was married on Skype to a teenager from Pakistan, because his relatives were furious that he had a white girlfriend.
A forced marriage protection order was enforced to stop his parents from taking him abroad.
To read But It’s Not Fair click www.freedomcharity.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/AneetaPrem-ButItsNotfair_5MB.pdf