Officers from across England and Wales will join the UK Border Force in a national week-long initiative dubbed Operation Limelight.
Social services, the health service and charities are also involved and will be assisting police during the project, which runs from July 15-19.
Operation Limelight will focus on flights connecting the UK to destinations where there is a high prevalence of forced marriage. Tactics will include educating airport and airline staff to spot the signs and increase their confidence in reporting suspicious activity to police. Intelligence will be used to identify and seek victims who are about to leave or have just arrived back in the UK.
National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for forced marriage, Commander Ivan Balhatchet, said, “Forced marriage is a violation of human rights. This week officers will be at airports using intelligence to intervene to prevent victims being taken abroad for a forced marriage. We’ll also be equipping airport staff to spot signs and encouraging them to report suspicions to us.
“The isolation, threats and violence that victims experience means that this is not something that can be tackled by police alone. That’s why our close partnership with public and third sector organizations during this operation will be key.”
In May 2019 the Home Office’s Forced Marriage Unit reported that it had provided support for 1,764 cases of suspected forced marriage in 2018. One third of cases involved children under the age of 18 and cases came from 74 countries. The top three highest rates involved travel to Pakistan (769 cases), Bangladesh (157 cases) and India (110 cases). The actual numbers are likely to be higher.
Forced marriage was made a specific criminal offense in the UK’s Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, but other offenses may also apply, such as violence and coercive control.
Commander Balhatchet added, “Police will investigate every case fully and take all available steps to detect and prosecute those involved in this heinous crime. Forcing someone to marry is punishable by up to seven years in prison.
“I urge anyone with concerns around forced marriage, or any other harmful practices affecting our children or vulnerable adults, to come forward and tell police. We will treat each individual case sensitively and confidentially.”