Reports of forced marriages on the rise; 43 so far this year

The National Hub for Forced Marriage and Abandonment (LKHA) has received 43 reports of young people being forced to marry or abandoned abroad so far this year. That is significantly more than at the same point last year. In all of 2022, the LKHA received 50 reports, NOS reports.

“It is remarkable that the counter is already so high. We expect the number to increase in the coming weeks due to the restart of the schools,” LKHA manager Diny Flierman told the broadcaster. Once schools reopen after the summer, teachers and friends notice when there’s an empty seat and report it to the authorities.

“At the same time, not everyone reports. In our opinion, the actual number is much higher. Not everyone dares to raise the alarm.” Statistics Netherlands (CBS) estimates that it happens hundreds of times a year that a young person is forced to marry someone or left abroad by their parents. The victims are predominantly girls.

NOS spoke to a 21-year-old woman who got help from the LKHA. Her parents flipped out when she started a relationship with someone of a different cultural background. “I saw a future with him. We shared the same religion. You shouldn’t make distinctions based on skin color or origin. But my parents placed culture above religion,” she said.

She refused to break off the relationship, and for a while, it seemed like her parents would accept it. Then, they went abroad to visit a seriously ill relative. “Once there, my parents took my passport. They thought I should continue my life there,” the young woman said.

The young woman didn’t accept that and secretly sought help. She eventually made contact with the LKHA through a Facebook group for women. The LKHA helped her return to the Netherlands a few months after her abandonment abroad. “My parents found out much later that I was no longer there. They contacted me, but I did not respond. I want to rebuild my life in peace. I need time for that.”

“For many parents with a non-Western background, it is important that their children come home with a partner of the same background,” Shirin Musa of women’s rights organization Femmes For Freedom told NOS. “If things go differently than they envision, children can be rejected, or in some cases, married off or left behind abroad.”

Reports of forced marriage or abandonment abroad mainly come from the Middle East, parts of Africa, and some areas of Southeast Asia. But LKHA and Femmes For Freedom are also receiving reports from some European countries, including Bulgaria, Greece, Denmark, and Spain. “We have concrete signals from women who have been stuck abroad for years and cannot renew their residency permit or passport. At a certain point, you lose the right to such a permit or your Dutch nationality, and then the embassy offers no help.”

If you need help with this issue or are worried about someone else, you can contact LKHA or Veilig Thuis.

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