How Kitchen Spoons Can Stop Forced Marriage

ByKatie Halper

In the fight against forced marriage, the best tool may be in your kitchen drawer.

England has a forced marriage problem, and the organization Karma Nirvana's solution involves spoons and airport security. Based in Central England, Karma Nirvana, which receives 6,500 calls a year on its hot-line, urges would-be victims of forced marriages to put a spoon in their underwear before traveling to the airport from which they are set to depart for their forced marriage. As the victim goes through security, the spoon sets off the metal detector. This triggers the victim to be searched in a private room away from family members where he or she could disclose what is about to happen.

Forced marriage differs from arranged marriage as it requires no consent. It exists in parts of the world like Pakistan, Bangladesh, and India. Forced marriages can be international arrangements. In England, for example, young women and girls (and sometimes young men and boys) are sent to marry someone in the country from which their parents originate . Their passport may be confiscated to prevent their return. One woman who eventually fled her forced marriage in India recounted the trauma surrounding the event: "If I thought about running away [my father] would find me and kill me ... I was shipped off with a total stranger... That night I was raped by my husband and this abuse continued for about eight and half years of my life."

Last year, England's Foreign Office's Forced Marriage Unit found approximately 15,000 cases of forced marriage (18% of which involved male victims). Of course, the number of forced marriages is much higher since many are neither discovered nor reported.  In one-third of the cases, the victims were under 17.

Karma Nirvana encourages airport officials to be on the lookout for victims of forced marriage. They are told to look for clues like young passengers who have one-way tickets, are traveling during school vacations, and look uncomfortable. 

While Karma Nirvana's proactive efforts to end forced marriage are promising, the complex nature of this institution begs the question of whether a solution is possible. Will victims be shunned by their families for seeking help? Will their communities alienate them in the long-run? Will parents repeatedly search their children for spoons? While long-term solutions remain uncertain, the collaboration between non-profits and airports marks a step in the right direction.

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