Police are today launching their first ever national crackdown on forced marriage as they will visit airports across the county as the school holidays get underway.
Officers from across Yorkshire will work alongside the Border Force and representatives from social services in a national week of intensification, starting today and named Operation Limelight.
The operation, which will focus on flights connecting the UK to destinations where there is a high prevalence of forced marriage comes just days after The Yorkshire Post revealed the true extent of the crime in the county.
There were 183 forced marriage cases intercepted by police across Yorkshire and the Humber last year. Of the 183 cases, 128 were linked to forced marriages being set up in Pakistan.
A further 18 were linked to Romania, five to Bangladesh and less than five to India.
Across the UK, there were a total of 1,764 cases the UK's Forced Marriage Unit gave advice and support to.
Tactics used by the police will include educating airport and airline staff to spot the signs and increase their confidence in reporting suspicious activity. Intelligence will also be used to identify and seek victims who are about to leave or have just arrived back in the UK.
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National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for forced marriage, Commander Ivan Balhatchet, said: “Forced marriage is a violation of human rights. This week officers will be at airports using intelligence to intervene to prevent victims being taken abroad for a forced marriage. We’ll also be equipping airport staff to spot signs and encouraging them to report suspicions to us.
“The isolation, threats and violence that victims experience means that this is not something that can be tackled by police alone. That’s why our close partnership with public and third sector organisations during this operation will be key.”
Schools across Yorkshire have been working with pupils to eradicate forced marriage and take preventative action.
Last summer, 1000 pupils at the Co-operative Academy in Leeds were supplied with spoons to hide in their clothes, triggering security systems at airports if they feared they were being forced abroad.
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The school's social, culture and ethos leader Harinder Kaur said there had been examples where pupils had returned from the summer holidays pregnant, or not at all
A forced marriage is one which one or both spouses do not, or cannot, agree to. Violence, threats and coercion are often involved. It is different from an arranged marriage where both parties can refuse to marry if they choose to.
Forced marriage was made a specific criminal offence in the Anti Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, however other offences may also apply, like violence and coercive control.
Mr Balhatchet said: “Police will investigate every case fully and take all available steps to detect and prosecute those involved in this heinous crime. Forcing someone to marry is punishable by up to seven years in prison.
“I urge anyone with concerns around forced marriage, or any other harmful practices affecting our children or vulnerable adults to come forward and tell police. We will treat each individual case sensitively and confidentially.”
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Founder of the Freedom Charity, which works to eliminate forced marriage, Aneeta Prem, said: “Freedom worked tirelessly to make forced marriage a criminal offence and targeting airports as the summer holidays get underway is key. We know it’s when potential victims are more likely to be taken abroad by their families to attend a wedding, not knowing that it is their own.
“Once someone is abroad it can take a great deal of effort to get them back to the UK safely and so this operation at airports is vital as it’s the last chance to save someone from a forced marriage.
“We know that forced marriage can lead to domestic abuse, rape, slavery and even murder.”