The Co-operative Academy of Leeds is supporting a campaign to protect students who could be victims of forced marriage.
Working with UK human rights charity Karma Nirvana, the academy is advising teenagers who are being taken abroad against their will to hide a spoon in their clothing. This will trigger airport metal detectors, which will lead to airport security taking the individual away for a search, when they can warn authorities safely and in private.
Anup Manota, operations manager at Karma Nirvana, said: “The summer holiday is the ideal time for parents who want to take their child abroad to be married because the school won’t be looking for them.
“This is a simple measure that can prevent a victim who may be subject to serious abuse. Our helpline aims to work with professionals and victims to ensure a victim is removed from their perpetrators before such a situation may arise. However, if some cases slip through the net, this is last resort measure to keep the victim in the country.”
Forced marriage is a recognised form of modern slavery. Karma Nirvana says it receives, on average, 22 reports every week from children and young people concerned about a forced marriage. The charity launched a national helpline in 2008, which has answered 60,000 enquiries.
Throughout 2017 the Home Office’s Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) gave advice or support related to a possible forced marriage in 1,196 cases.
The Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 makes it a criminal offence to force someone to marry. This includes taking someone overseas to force them to marry, whether or not the forced marriage takes place. But this has only led to two convictions, said Karma Nirvana.
The Co-op Academy is organising a series of events designed in conjunction with the charity to raise awareness about the issue.
Pippa Wicks, deputy CEO at the Co-op Group, which sponsors the academy, said: “Unfortunately, the summer holiday is a time when young people can be taken abroad against their will. The spoon in your underwear is a simple way of letting the authorities know if you think you are in danger.”
The initiative forms part of the Group’s campaign on modern slavery. Through its Bright Future programme, the retailer offers survivors a four-week paid work placement leading to a non-competitive interview. If successful, the candidate is be offered a permanent job.
Pippa Wicks added: “We think of slavery as something from the history books but it is happening in the UK at this very moment.
“Having heard at first hand the harrowing stories of people who have been caught up in this heinous crime, it is heartening that other businesses are joining us in the Bright Future programme which offer victims the dignity of paid, freely chosen employment.”