Children as young as 13 saved from clutches of forced marriage across Yorkshire
Children as young as 13 have been saved from the clutches of forced marriage by police officers across Yorkshire.
A special investigation by the Yorkshire Post can today reveal 183 cases have been intercepted by police across Yorkshire and the Humber in 2018.
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.
Of the cases, 312 victims were aged 15 and under, 307 were aged 18 to 21, and 262 aged 16 and 17.
West Yorkshire has also overtaken London as the area with the highest number of calls to Karma Nirvana, a charity which helps both women and men subjected to forced marriage.
Statistics reveal that there were 1,390 contacts made to the charity from people across West Yorkshire, compared with 817 calls from London.
PC Abigail Fox-Greenwood, from the Leeds District Safeguarding team, said: "The figures may shock people, but forced marriage is still happening in this area and awareness needs to be raised.
"The youngest person I have personally worked with was just 13 years old.
"We are always carrying out training and awareness to different agencies and other professionals.
"We do our best to spread the message that forced marriage is not acceptable and we are here to help.
"If you are being forced into something, tell someone. It doesn't mean us sending your parents to prison. We want to keep you safe and we don't want it to get to the situation where you are out of the country and being threatened with your life.
"Quite simply, you are not forced to love somebody, so don't be forced to marry someone. It is about you. You have rights and you have options. We live in a democracy where you have those options and don't let anyone force you into something you don't want to."
PC Fox-Greenwood made history as part of West Yorkshire Police's Operation Axledale. They were the first team to secure the first conviction of a Leeds mother and father who lured their daughter to Bangladesh and tried to force her to marry a man there.
Following a 25 month investigation, the father was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison and the mother three-and-a-half years last summer.
The victim has shared her story with the Yorkshire Post to raise awareness and encourage
She said: "Anyone who is worried that they won’t be believed, safe, able to speak out – you can and help is there. I was never pressured to do anything I didn’t want to do. I listened and wanted to be able to make a stand against what is right and what is wrong. I didn’t set out to send two people to prison, I set out to fight for what was right, it was their choice and they have to live with that.
"Forced marriage is against the law, it is that simple. Yes the people who brought me into this world are in prison and yes I don’t have family, but I am alive. I have a new life, I am happy, grounded – I do not feel shame and I will not be shamed but most of all, I am free."
West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson said tackling forced marriage is a priority in his police and crime plan.
He said: “Those at risk or affected are often some of the most vulnerable in our communities and can find themselves in conflict with people they care about. They can become isolated from family and friends, feeling like they have no-one to turn to. It is so crucial that these harmful practises are challenged and we continue to work with others to raise awareness of the holistic support available.
“A partnership approach is crucial in confronting forced marriage and I have worked with the police and community safety partners, including voluntary and charitable organisations, to increase awareness campaigns and training as well as providing funding through my Safer Communities Fund for local groups and activities.
“This Sunday, 14th July, marks the annual day of remembrance for all those lost to honour killings. It is a day to reflect and galvanise our aim to help eradicate so called ‘honour’ based abuse. I urge anyone affected by these issues, or anyone that suspects someone may be affected, to report their concerns to the police or to a dedicated support agency such as the national helpline Karma Nirvana on 0800 5999 247 who I have worked with as a West Yorkshire based service."