UK 'giving visas to husbands of forced marriage victims'

By Laura Bundock, political correspondent
The Home Office has been accused of failing to help British victims of forced marriage by issuing visas to their foreign husbands.
An investigation by The Times newspaper claims that dozens of women who were sent overseas to marry tried to block visas for their husbands.
But records show in nearly half their cases, visas were issued.Charities working with victims of forced marriage say they believe the Home Office is "turning a blind eye" to the problem, with fears of being called racist one of the reasons officials failed to properly investigate complaints.Forced marriages often involve teenage girls who are taken abroad by their families and made to marry against their will.They often take place in South Asian countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh and India.Victims are made to stay overseas until they become pregnant, when they are returned home to give birth.Their husbands then attempt to join them in the UK using visas applied for by their families.Women can apply to block the visas if they sign a public statement.Forced marriages are illegal in the UK and can result in a prison sentence of up to seven years, while courts can issue forced marriage protection orders to protect vulnerable people.
The Times investigation uncovered figures showing the Home Office last year handled 88 cases in which victims wanted to block visas for the men they were made to marry.The data showed 42 of the visas were still granted despite the attempts to stop them.The Home Office strongly denies that visas were awarded to people despite officials knowing their spouses had been forced into the marriage.A spokesperson said: "The UK is a world-leader in tackling the horrendous crime of forced marriage, and work to combat it is an integral part of our cross-government violence against women and girls (VAWG) strategy, published in March 2016."We take our safeguarding responsibilities very seriously. If an individual refuses to act as the sponsor for a visa application then under the immigration rules, that visa should not be issued."There are a number of reasons why cases are referred to the forced marriage unit, not all of which are the result of a reluctant sponsor getting in contact. In some cases it will be decided, following enquiries, that no further action is necessary and a visa will be issued."The Home Office works with the Foreign Office to tackle forced marriages in the forced marriage unit.
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Last year the unit supported and gave advice to 1,192 cases of possible forced marriage.The forced marriage unit can be contacted on a dedicated helpline: 020 7008 0151.
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