By MAMAMIA TEAM
It turns out, the humble teaspoon could save a woman’s life.
Forced marriages – arranged marriages where the participants may be unwilling – are traditional cultural practices most commonly seen in Pakistan, Bangladesh, India and Afghanistan.
But the practice is becoming increasingly widespread in the United Kingdom, which is home to a significant population of subcontinent-born migrants.
The British government has even asked airport attendants, teachers, and doctors to be on the look out for young women who seem to be uncomfortable about travelling, or are showing signs that they might be being forced into leaving the country.
Now, a charity called Karma Nirvana has come up with a novel way to help people who might be victims of forced marriages. Given that these forced wedding ceremonies rarely take place within Britain itself, the group is promoting the following message: if you are being forced into marriage, put a spoon in your underwear before you get to the airport.
The explanation for this seemingly bizarre act is pretty simple: The spoon will set off the metal detectors.
And that will give the young women (and sometimes men) a chance to tell the authorities – hopefully – about their situation, when they are taken away from their parents to be checked for the cause of the metal detector alarm.
The manager of Karma Nirvana, Natasha Rattu, say that this is a necessary measure because a victim is often too afraid to stand up publicly to their parents or family. In fact, doing so can lead to emotional or physical abuse. Some cultures still practice honour killings and in one instance a woman told the AFP that her father threatened to murder her, if she attempted to run away from her arranged marriage.
When youngsters ring, if they don’t know exactly when it may happen, or if it’s going to happen, we advise them to put a spoon in their underwear.
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 place where they have that one last opportunity to disclose they’re being forced to marry.
We’ve had people ring and say that it’s helped them and got them out of a dangerous situation. It’s an incredibly difficult thing to do with your family around you – but they won’t be aware you have done it. It’s a safe way.
Shockingly, Karma Nirvana gets approximately 6,500 calls a year from young people who are worried that they will be forced into marriage by their parents and relatives.
Reports indicate that last year Britain’s Foreign Office’s Forced Marriage Unit saw 1,500 cases of forced marriage. More than a third of the cases involved people who were under 16-years-old. Not all victims are young; the oldest was 71-years-old. But the youngest was only two-years-old.
Anup Manota, also from Karma Nirvana told Huffington Post that “Many of the victims have in fact been promised to someone from birth, or maybe even before birth, with families saying the daughter or son is promised to another family in exchange for business or land. We are finding that is a common occurrence.”
The US has also seen an increase in cases of forced marriages in recent years. The AHA foundation, a women’s rights organisation, says that a 2011 survey showed at least 3000 cases of forced marriage over 2 years – from 56 different countries.
At the moment, there is no law in either the US or the UK against forced marriage, but potential victims can be helped using charges of kidnapping and false imprisonment.
Arranged marriages are common cultural practices in many countries – but forced marriages are not okay. Women and men of any age, should not be forced into sharing their life with another person – often hugely incompatible – based solely upon the wishes of their family.
And, unfortunately, there is little that the average person can do.
But a silver spoon could help.
As some readers have pointed out in the comments, by publishing this article there is a chance that parents who are intending to force their children into arranged marriages will learn about the silver spoon method of escape. We debated long and hard in the office about whether or not to publish this piece, as clearly a balance needs to be struck between publicising this information so that young women do know about it, and keeping it under wraps so that parents don’t.
Ultimately, we decided to let out actions be guided by those of the organisation. Karma Nirvana are trying to share this information with young women around the world. Natasha Rattu, the manager of Karma Nirvana, and another spokesperson Anup Manota have spoken to the media to get the message out there.