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News ->Forced Marriages & Sex Trafficking

(11 July 2006)

Hindu BrideA new University of Leicester study is to investigate the role of society and culture as a complicit to the process of sex trafficking. The postgraduate research project in the University's Department of Criminology aims to gather information from 'the world's most silent and abused women - women who have been exploited by the people they trust.' The study by Mega Arumugam, a doctoral student at the University, will be "using a combination of in-depth interviews to investigate the prevalence of 'bride trade' and its link to forced marriage in the UK."

The joint Home Office and Foreign and Commonwealth Office Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) will be hosting a series of conferences around the UK to raise awareness of the issues surrounding Forced Marriages during the month of July - the next event being held on 24 July 2006 at the Hillingdom Civic Centre in West London.

According to researcher Mega Arumugam: "By-products such as forced marriage and bride-trade culminate out of certain practices embedded in family and kinship relations within some of Britain's ethnic communities. These practices not only condone exploitation and sexualized violence against women, but can actually encourage sexual trafficking of young girls and women".

Mega Arumugam added that the study aims to move beyond the focus on trafficking for the commercial sex trade to include other contexts in which women are exploited as items for exchange or are denied individual autonomy or authority. Her study will highlight the striking parallel between traditional violence stemming out of culturally-condoned exploitation of women and that of sex trafficking, the modern day slavery. This will inevitably broaden the concept of 'sex trafficking' to a more domestic level and inform for a more comprehensive legislative protection against sexualised violence

"Marriage can be an attractive tool for sex traffickers. The legality of marriage often offers a false sense of security that there is no victimisation, coercion or exploitation involved, hence providing a veil for the perpetrators, and could possibly lead to a means of trafficking women across the UK," according to the study's author.

"When the process of trafficking begin at a more domestic level - with perpetrators ranging from spouses and partners to parents and other family members, the familial relationship between trafficking agents and victims often leads to barriers in disclosure. This provides the perpetrators with a coercive tool to use and abuse these women at every step of the trafficking game".

Mega cites two examples to illustrate a more general and widespread problem:

* The case of two sisters, one 15 and the other younger, who were taken to Yemen ostensibly on holiday-but who were literally sold into marriage

* The case of a Bangladeshi wife who was regularly sold to her husband's friends in exchange for money and who was later sold to a brothel. According to her, marriage was no different to prostitution.

"We already know that a rapidly growing worldwide industry has developed in trafficking women and girls for commercial sexual exploitation such as prostitution, but contemporary trafficking operations can also transform traditional bride wealth and marriage exchanges by treating women's sexuality and bodies as commodities to be bought and sold"

"Having said this, it is important to note that the essence of social practices and traditional customs such as 'arranged marriages' itself is not exploitative in its nature. My identity as a South Indian woman enables me to appreciate that these practices and customs do play a vital role in the preservation of culture and tradition. As such, I do not denounce the notion of traditional customs such arranged marriages, but rather wish to make those who abuse the system as the focal point of my research".

"The study will help inform policy makers and communities at large of a criminal network that could link crime to the murky side of social and cultural practices and hence defy the myth that crimes such as sex-trafficking are predominantly organised 'Mafia business'".

"It will also provide a whole new perception to gender specific violence at its most corrosive forms without undermining the foundations of a community's sense of self-identity and its cultural tradition."

Speaking of what inspired her research, Mega Arumugam said: "I have always had the opportunity of experiencing the many privileges that life has to offer and now it is my turn, through my research, to provide that hope of emancipation to the women out there who are being abused because of their gendered position within their society. The research will hopefully give 'voice' to many of these silent groups of women."


The joint Home Office and Foreign and Commonwealth Office Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) will be hosting a series of conferences around the UK to raise awareness of the issues surrounding Forced Marriages during the month of July.

Following the success of regional conferences in Leicester, Birmingham and Manchester, the east and west London conferences are scheduled to take place, on the 11th and 24th July. The conferences are part of the national campaign to highlight the difference between forced and arranged marriage, and make clear that forced marriage is an abuse of human rights and a form of domestic violence.

The conferences will also publicise the support available to young people affected by forced marriage and encourage them to seek help. It will highlight the damaging emotional consequences to families and the crimes involved in forcing someone into marriage.

Speakers at the conference include Lisa Bandari, head of the Forced Marriage Unit, Yvonne Rhoden, from the Metropolitan Police and representatives from local refuges and associated women's projects, who work closely with the survivors of forced marriages in the each of the regions, to bring them to safety.

The conference has been organised for people working within each region that may be affected by Forced Marriages, whether it be a community project manager, a teacher or a welfare officer. The events will offer visitors the opportunity to understand the difference between forced and arranged marriages and what action, if any should be taken in the case of a forced marriage. The conferences, which run from 1.00pm to 5.00pm at each venue, are open to anyone who wishes to learn more about the issues, and are free of charge. Spaces are limited and places MUST be reserved in advance. To attend any of the conferences call 020 8902 5575.

Home Office minister, Rt Hon Baroness Scotland QC, said: "Forced marriage affects children, teenagers and adults from all races and religions, including Sikh, Hindu, Muslim and Christians. And it is not solely an issue facing Asian Communities. We deal with cases in the Middle East, Western Balkans and Africa."

"Forced marriage is a form of domestic violence and a human right abuse, The victims often face emotional and physical abuse. We are determined to help young people at risk and protect their right to choose whom they marry."


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