12th February 2016

Abandonment as a Form of Abuse – Research done by University of Lincoln

I would encourage you all to read this highly insightful and educative report about the situation of abandoned transnational spouses. In our practice as workers with gender violence this is knowledge that we all need. It is a report that should be on the curriculum for all law students.

Launched on 4th February 2016 the report was introduced by Pragna Patel of Southall Black Sisters who also wrote the Forward.

Although the research focused on Indian women marrying men of Indian heritage, the findings are equally applicable to women from Bangladesh, Pakistan and to other migrant women who come to the UK as spouses.

Calling for abandonment to be recognised as a specific form of violence it shows the interplay between this and other known forms of gender violence such as financial and physical abuse, visa abuse and highlights the extreme vulnerability of these women and their children which co-exists with our VAWG policy and protective measures for FGM, Forced Marriage and honour based violence without any of these provisions actively addressing the issues. It is as if the civil and criminal justice system in the UK colludes with the abusers.

Many of the women were tricked into returning to their country of origin and were then abandoned. The husband revokes her visa preventing her return.

Essential information includes the high abandonment rates amongst women considered ‘less suitable for marriage’:- this often includes women who are darker skinned, are considered poor, those with lots of sisters, old (anywhere near 30) and those who have previously been divorced.

Common features emerged in the data. For example marriages are often rushed within a couple of days. This allows no time for the brides family to check up on the groom, many of whom had a history of domestic violence, a criminal record, alcohol or drug dependency, previous or concurrent marriages and mental health issues or physical or learning disabilities.

Pragna Patel warns in her forward that the crisis in the care system in the UK will lead to marriages having the purpose of providing carers for relatives.

There is significant motivation for the groom’s family to pursue marriages including incentives by way of a dowry paid by the bride’s family, the provision of a domestic worker or a free worker in a family business.

In many cases men had negotiated marriage for family benefit in return for being allowed to carry on their real relationship – gay or straight – the pay off for their parents is status in the community, dowry and a domestic servant.

These women are often left with the impossible task of making the marriage work, or risk shaming the family and herself. There is a financial issue for the bride’s family too – families go into huge debt paying for weddings and dowry.

The report calls for an understanding of the severity of the known stigma which attaches to the woman when marriage ends. It is fear of this that allows for the abusive coercion and control to be so effective.

Themes of severe control (even down to CCTV in family homes to check on behaviour) total isolation from family and the outside work and endless abuse are things that front line workers will be very familiar with, but here there is an important call for training of Judges and changes to the immigration system to protect these women. Many face constant sexual abuse (by husband and male in laws) and many are not allowed to control their own fertility. In some cases where women refused sex their Mother in Law gave them a milky drink, this caused them to pass out and when they came to they had been raped. I have had more than one such case.

The report, and in particular Pragna Patel’s introduction, highlight how the UK authorities conspire with perpetrators due to UK Immigration policies.

The research reveals that there are 15,000 abandoned women in the Punjab alone. This is a significant problem that is going undetected and unaddressed in the UK.

By abandoning women in her country of origin, the man’s family are currently assured that she will be unable to fight for her legally guaranteed rights in the UK for her children, financial support and even divorce. There is the difficulty that the Home Office will not issue visas for women, and their children, to come to the UK. Women may be able to participate in their cases by video link, but my experience is that this is unsatisfactory and doesn’t guarantee a fair hearing. Also women in rural areas will be unable, in most cases, to access video links. This not only denies the women her human rights, but also her children are denied their right to their primary carer.

Disinformation is a recurring issue with in-laws advising victims that they have no legal rights, protections or services in the UK, and that if they alert anyone, they will be deported.

The report makes a series of key recommendations for change in the UK:

  • Women who have resided in the UK should be entitled to claim under the Domestic Violence Rule and the Destitution and Domestic Violence Concession (DDDV);
  • The issue of temporary visas to women as a matter of course to pursue their rights in UK courts;
  • The right to domestic violence victims to a full immigration appeal – currently denied;
  • Family law and immigration rights information to be given to all women when applying for their visa;
  • A training programme for the judiciary about the social realities for migrant women regarding the stigma of marital breakdown;
  • Better understanding of Stridhan (gifts from the bride’s family to the groom’s) dowry and other settlements so women are not left destitute;
  • The UK Government is called upon to explore the possibility of reciprocal agreements between countries for enforcement of court orders in family law cases.

To this I would add the need for careful safety planning with people working with women vulnerable to this comprehensive form of abuse.

I have been working with these exact issues for over 25 years and have not seen such a descriptive comprehensive report of what these women are facing. We must all make sure that we are up to speed with how to identify those at risk of transnational abandonment.

Keir Starmer MP and Vera Baird PCC visited the Angelou Centre on 11th February 2016 to be updated about the position of BME/Migrant women and victims of violence. The report was presented to them. In a lively debate he heard from front line workers and survivors of abuse and the immigration and family justice system, including the situation with Legal Aid post LASPO. Keir Starmer has a special interest in VAWG and the Labour Party is currently reviewing the impact of LASPO and cuts to Legal Aid.

Keir Starmer - Angelou Centre 2
Vera Baird PCC, Keir Starmer MP and Cris McCurley visit the Angelou Centre

Blog by Cris McCurley, Partner and International Family Solicitor