British authorities under fire for making forced marriage victims pay to return home from Somalia and failing to prosecute complicit family members

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Some of the girls described how they had been chained to walls and whipped with hosepipes for forgetting verses of the Koran.

An investigation by The Times newspaper has revealed that British police failed to investigate the families of the young British women who were sent to a school in Somalia where they were beaten and prepared for forced marriages.

The newspaper highlights the cases of seven victims, aged between 17 and 22, who were rescued in 2017 from a “correctional religious school” where they had been chained to walls and whipped with hosepipes for forgetting verses of the Koran and told they would be forced to marry. One escaped by climbing over a barbed wire fence before calling for help.

However, following their return to the UK and being interviewed by police, officers decided that none of the allegations warranted the arrest of any family members, despite it being illegal to force someone to marry or to use deception to take someone abroad for a forced marriage.

Speaking to the newspaper, one of the victims said she had felt abandoned by officers, who have only called her once since she returned to Britain.

The Times has also reported that young women who were sent abroad for forced marriages were charged by the Foreign Office for the cost of return.

Figures released under a Freedom of Information request showed the department helped repatriate 27 victims in 2017 and 55 the year before, but after calling for help from the Foreign Office, they were told they would have to find hundreds of pounds for their flight home, basic food and shelter. Those who were unable to pay and over 18 were made to sign emergency loan agreements with the Foreign Office before boarding their flight home and have their passports confiscated until they repaid the outstanding amount. Failure to clear their debt within six months, resulted in officials adding 10 per cent to their bill.

Four of the young British women who had been found imprisoned in the “correctional school” in Somalia were charged £740 each. 

In the last three years, Home Office officials have received more than 3,800 reports of forced marriages or victims being at risk of forced marriage in the past three years but fewer than 80 suspects have been charged during the same period despite it being illegal to force someone to marry since 2014.

Writing a comment piece in the newspaper, former chief crown prosecutor for the North West of England, Nazir Afzal, put the failure to prosecute families who force young women to marry down to “incompetence”.

“Yes, the cases are difficult, but the tools necessary to win them are there. We need, for example, to make greater use of undercover surveillance to gather evidence on families suspected of compelling a woman to marry against her will. Police and prosecutors are doing everyone a disservice by not making more of an effort in this area,” he added.

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