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Disposable Women? Transnational marriages – time for a change?

Southall Black Sisters are instrumental in the commission of a report highlighting the abuse, violence and abandonment in transnational marriages.

Although the report is limited to research carried out in India and the UK, it is certainly not limited to those countries. The 3 areas of abandonment are –

  • Women entering the UK under spousal visas and are abandoned in the UK with no recourse to funds.
  • Women who are sponsored in the UK arriving on spousal visas and then on a pretext of a holiday for example are sent back to their home country and abandoned and are often separated from the children.
  • Women who are married to UK nationals but are never sponsored to enter the UK, they remain with their in-laws and are treated effectively as slaves and subjected to domestic abuse. This seems to be the largest category and the most challenging.

What can be done to help these women who are unable to return to the country? Who have been separated from their children? What of the wives who have no children and who want to return to at least to obtain a financial remedy in divorce proceedings commenced by their husbands.

With David Cameron’s proposals of every person who enters in to the country must past the language test, this would make it even more difficult for these women to return to the country.

The reports sets out that 73% of the women interviewed had experienced physical violence from the in-laws, especially once the husband had left. Women were sometimes coerced into having abortions. Women were also subjected to dehumanising treatments such as not being allowed in any of the rooms with a fan despite soaring temperatures in India whilst other were only allowed to sleep on the floor or had separate plate and a cup for them only; not being able to use the family’s crockery. This behaviour towards women by women was particularly traumatising. For a majority of women living with their in-laws in India, female in-laws were the primary perpetrators of exploitation and abuse. In the UK, women were not permitted out of the home and forced to carry out domestic chores and treated like slaves.

It has to be right that abandonment is recognised as a form of violence against women so that they are afforded the protection and support required to help these women.

There were a number of further recommendations including a greater awareness and procedural checks and safeguards in family law processes with the red flagging of divorce cases and all hearings of divorces involving foreign spouses automatically going to the High Court.

A training programme for the judiciary to understand better the social realities of women who live abroad for whom divorce carries severe stigma and adverse financial mental health consequences.

Consideration of financial compensation to reflect abandonment as a particular aggravating form of abuse when making decisions about financial and property settlements upon divorce.

In cases involving children’s abduction and abandonment abroad, judicial guidance should insist that the immigration authorities allow the abandoned spouse to return to the UK to take part in the proceedings.

This research, first of its kind, sets out particularly harrowing situations these women find themselves in. The families have arranged marriages with foreign nationals and not carried out proper checks. This transnational abandonment is a very real issue for hundreds of thousands of women around the world and there is a need for raising awareness and providing information on this issue to afford women more protection.

Yes the time is right for a change!