A new kind of trafficking is being seen as an emerging trend in the wake of consistent efforts by western European countries to curb immigration. Women from poor countries in Eastern Europe, especially around the Balkan region are being lured to come to countries like UK and France for sham marriages. These women are often promised money and better living conditions, but when they finally reach their destination all this turns out to be a scam. The women in such cases are married to African or Asian nationals looking to find a way around tough immigration laws by getting European documents.
Klara Balogova, a pregnant girl from Slovakia, travelled to England at the age of 18, to marry a person she did not even know. Her ‘groom’, a 23 year old Pakistani national, did not really care about Klara or her baby. All he wanted was a European identity card which would enable him to live and work in Europe. Balogova who was promised money and a better life was in despair when she found out the reality about her new life.
She was forced to live in a small apartment with her to be husband and was not allowed to go out except for once a week with her future partner. Balogova was to get married after she gave birth, but hospital authorities grew suspicious about the father’s identity and decided to report the matter. The groom was finally deported and Balogova later returned to Slovakia with the help of social workers. Klara still expresses her desire to get back to her life in Britain, which she describes as hundred times better than enduring poverty in her home country.
A growing trend
Every year many such women are brought to various west European nations from their poverty stricken eastern counterparts. These women are often brought by gangs of eastern Europeans operating in England by their connections in the home country. All of these women are not as fortunate as Klara and often have to endure much more than just consequences of false promises.
These women are forced to marry more than once and also abused by the groom’s friends or used for sex and drug trafficking. This trade in particular is controlled by gypsy gangs which have mostly Slovak or Czech nationals working for them. The victims are lured by promises of money and opportunities to work in restaurants or stores, but are later married off to foreign nationals. When the men get what they want, they don’t waste much time in getting rid of their brides.
Soft targets for exploitation
Few months earlier authorities unearthed a trafficking case where a 38 year old Pakistani man married a 20 year old Slovakian woman for 15000 pounds. The woman who had learning disabilities and didn’t know English thought she was visiting her sister but was instead taken to another location where she was married off in presence of an imam. Once the husband got his papers, she was taken to a hospital for abortion. She thought she was taken there for help with abdominal pain, until an interpreter told her what was going on.
In one case a Lithuanian woman was lured by love instead of money. A Pakistani man wooed her on Facebook before they met in England. He told her he loved her and that he was persecuted in his home country. Her passport was snatched off and she was left with no other option but to marry the man. During this time she was also raped on many occasions by an “uncle” of the perpetrator.
Difficult to tackle
Scotland is emerging as a more favourable location for such activities, as the legal age for marriage without parental consent is 16 while it is 18 in England. Such cases rarely lead to convictions because the perpetrators cross borders or the women are too afraid to testify. The situation seems to be getting worse as people are so poor, that they would prefer to be exploited in a foreign country rather than stay home.
Though the numbers are far less than the thousands of cases of direct arrangements between bride and grooms, this may open doors for large scale exploitation. In cases of mutual arrangements, the brides are treated as accomplices and it is impossible to verify cases of trafficking. But things do not go as planned always. In several cases the immigrants paying for brides are cheated by immigration agents or many involved in the trade.
As politicians in Europe and western nations are pushing for stricter immigration laws, there is also a need for measures that could safeguard women from exploitation.