Forced Child Marriage Victims Must Pay for Own Rescue, UK Government Rules
Rescued victims of forced marriage to pay for flights, food, shelter, says Foreign Office
The UK Foreign Office has ruled that victims of forced marriages must pay for their own rescue when government agents return them to the United Kingdom from foreign countries.
A new report has revealed that young women and children who are forcibly taken from the country to marry someone against their will, will be charged for the costs involved in returning them to the UK.
According to an investigation by The Times, victims must pay for their own plane ticket, food, and shelter - or, if they are over 18 - they can take out emergency loans from the government.
Women who have taken out loans have had their passports canceled, and were told they cannot get a new one until the debt is repaid.
The news comes amid spiraling child marriage cases in Europe.
The recent ruling by a German Federal court has thrown a law passed in 2017, to raise the marriage age to 18 last year to combat child marriages, into disarray.
The court ruled that child marriages will be legal in Germany, provided they are carried out "legally" under Sharia Law.
The bombshell new ruling could have implications on the way child marriages, conducted legally under laws from overseas, are treated in the country.
According to Sky News, the UK Foreign Office has already started billing victims for their rescue after being shipped abroad to be married in nations with loose laws on forced marriage.
And those women eligible for a loan to pay back the fees will also be faced with a 10% surcharge if the emergency loan is not repaid within six months.
According to The Times, four young British women were sent by their families to a "correctional school" in Somalia in 2018, where they were imprisoned and physically abused.
They were charged £740 ($935) each and reportedly left destitute by the loans - and The Times was told that two of them were now living in refuges since returning to the UK, while two had become drug addicts.
The Foreign Office helped 27 victims of forced marriage return to the UK in 2017 and 55 in 2016, according to figures quoted by the newspaper.
In the past two years, the Foreign Office has lent £7,765 to at least eight women and about £4,500 is still outstanding.
News that the women were made to pay the costs of their return to the UK was met with anger from some MPs.
Tom Tugendhat, the Tory chairman of the foreign affairs select committee said The Times report was "astonishing" and that questions would be asked.
He said: "[The Foreign Office] is rightly proud of the work the [forced marriages unit] does. They should be.
"But we shouldn't be charging the most vulnerable for their own protection or dissuading them from asking for it."
Yvette Cooper, chairwoman of the home affairs committee, said: "Forced marriage is slavery.
"For the government to make victims pay for their freedom is immoral. Ministers need to put this right fast."
A Foreign Office spokeswoman said: "We recognize that an emergency loan can help remove a distressed or vulnerable person from risk when they have no other options, but as they are from public funds we have an obligation to recover the money in due course.
"When people contact us for help to return to the UK, we work with them to access their own funds or help them contact friends, family or organizations that can cover the costs of returning to the UK.
"However, many of the victims who the Forced Marriage Unit help are vulnerable, and when offering any type of support their safety is our primary concern.
"The Forced Marriage Unit also provides funding for safe houses and NGOs overseas and in the UK to ensure victims of forced marriage can get to a place of safety as soon as possible.
"We do not charge British nationals for this service and work with organizations in the UK to support them on return."