Girls Fearing Forced Marriage Told to Stick a Spoon in Underwear to Alert Airport Security

Travellers from the Middle East arrive at the International Arrivals section at Los Angeles International Airport on June 29, 2017, where free legal advice was offered and activists protested President Donald Trump's ban temporarily barring entry into the US from Libya, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. The ban prevents …
FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty

Girls in Sweden are being advised that if they fear being taken overseas to be subjected to a forced marriage or Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) that they should hide a spoon in their underwear.

“The spoon will trigger metal detectors when you go through security checks,” said Katarina Idegård who is the development manager for the unit charged with tackling honour-based violence in Sweden’s second biggest city Gothenburg.

“You will be taken aside and you can then talk to staff in private,” Ms. Idegård told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“It is a last chance to sound the alarm,” she added.

Airport staff in Gothenburg have been trained on how to handle such situations, and campaigners hope other cities and airports will adopt the same procedure.

Reuters reports that Sweden keeps no statistics on the number of girls who are sent abroad to be forced into marriages, but Ms. Idegård said a hotline has received 139 calls last year about forced and child marriages.

It was only in March 2018 that Sweden’s parliament voted to stop recognising child marriage after parties from the governing coalition, including the Social Democrats, had tried to seek some exemptions.

Child marriage has become an issue in Sweden since the country absorbed some 160,000 asylum seekers from the Middle East and Africa during the 2015 migrant crisis who brought the custom with them.

Both forced marriage and FGM are illegal in Sweden. But according to a 2015 study, it is believed that up to 38,000 girls and women in the country may have undergone FGM, with victims being mainly of Egyptian, Eritrean, Ethiopian, Gambian, and Somali heritage.

The secret code came from an original idea by British honour culture victims’ charity Karma Nirvana. Despite 5,391 new cases of FGM in 2016-2017 alone, not one single child abuser has been convicted for the practice in the UK.

Britain’s second-only conviction for forced marriage came on Tuesday after a mother was found guilty of deceiving her teenage daughter into travelling to Pakistan and forcing her to marry an older relative who had raped and impregnated her years earlier when she was 13.

It is not the first time young, vulnerable women were told to take their protection into their own hands because the state failed to safeguard them.

After mass sex attacks during New Year’s Eve celebrations in Cologne 2015/16 – committed by mostly North African and Arabic men – the city mayor responded by saying that women should just keep strangers at “arm’s length“.

Women and girls at several Swedish pop concerts were also subject to sexual assault and rape by “foreign” men in the summer of 2016 including at the Party in the Park in Karlstad, the country’s largest festival Bravalla in Norrkoping, and at the anti-racism ‘Peace & Love’ festival in Borlange.

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