INTERVIEW: ‘Doing nothing is not an option,’ says Aneeta Prem, founder of the Freedom Charity which was the group contacted by the women rescued from domestic slavery in south London at the end of last year. Prem was talking about the criminalising of forced marriages under the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, which will enable women and girls to prosecute perpetrators when the legislation comes into force this summer.
‘People have been against forced marriage becoming a criminal offence because they would argue it will drive it underground, but forced marriage is already underground,’ Prem told the JusticeGap. She was speaking at the University of Winchester (HERE) and stressed that forced marriages took place in ‘almost every country’, with cases from Turkey and Greece ‘increasing dramatically’.
According to Prem, the youngest case of forced marriage to be reported to the Forced Marriage Unit in the UK was a two-year-old, and the oldest at 87-years-old. The victim ‘will be on a rollercoaster, there will be highs and lows’, she said; adding it would be ‘difficult’ for a victim of forced marriage to testify against their own family. ‘When they know the weight of the law behind that young person that comes forward to report, hopefully that will give them confidence,’ she added.
The voluntary and charity sectors will be left to ‘pick up the pieces’ to help these people, Prem said, but it was time for the Government ‘to put their actions into money and resources’ to help prevent this ‘horrendous’ crime. When dealing with rescue cases or freeing someone from life of domestic servitude or sex slavery, Prem said it can be ‘very very distressing but rewarding’.
Doing nothing is not an option
Campaigners told the BBC that they believe the government is ‘licensing modern slavery’ in the application of its visa rules for domestic workers, which restricts immigrants coming to the UK from moving jobs. Education was key to the charity’s work, Prem said, and visiting schools and universities helped raise awareness of potential signs to look out for. Prem hoped that people would raise the alarm if they noticed anything suspicious because ‘doing nothing is not an option’. She predicted that there would be a ‘peak of cases’ reported to the charity when criminalisation of forced marriages comes into force in June/July this year.
Justice Gap reporter and journalism student at the University of Winchester