When the reporter asks: “why is it that men do this?”, Professor Sundari Anitha, of the University of Lincoln, only has to consider for a moment; the answer is painfully obvious.
“Men do this because it’s so easy for them to get away with it,” she answers in rapid, lilting tones.
In many areas of the world where there are family ties between the “first” world and the poorer nations, it’s a steadily rising epidemic, especially in those countries where the woman’s family traditionally pays a bride-price or dowry: a man with American or British citizenship comes back to the “old country” to find a wife, marries her, enjoys the honeymoon – and then leaves, pocketing the four-figure dowry and abandoning the woman to her own devices, or worse, forcing the bride to live with his relatives to serve them. A woman dreaming of marrying and being taken to the US or the UK with her new husband might, within a few weeks, find herself a slave to her new in-laws – and her marriage a sham. Many women find out, too late, that he is already married – and that she is only one of a string of women to be thus used and thrown away.
Only infrequently will the man go through the trouble and expense of taking his new wife back home with him; those who do will often wait until a child is born, then take his new family on a holiday to visit the relatives – and then conveniently leave the mother of his child behind with those relatives; she will never see her husband or her child again. He gains a child and sometimes several thousand dollars; she gains nothing but a new reputation as a social pariah.
The abandonment (and the loss of a bride-price which often represents decades of savings to her family) is not the worst that one of these “disposable women” has to endure; in these countries, the stigma of a woman who has had sexual relations but no husband to show for it is often so harsh that her sisters might be unable to find good husbands – she is “damaged goods,” and her standing in the community is irrevocably ruined. No one seems to notice – or care – that there is no corresponding stigma attached to the men; they are free to marry again, as often as they like, each time pocketing a small fortune.
“My life is already ruined,” one woman says quietly, as her devastated father sits not far away. “I now want justice.”
Justice is not easy to find, especially if the women have never been taken to their husband’s country. But Harjap Singh Bangal, a lawyer for the London Immigration Advice and Appeals services, would like to see the law changed to protect these women. “He’s used his passport to gain an advantage,” he says earnestly. “The UK government should then say to these people, ‘right, you’ve abused your right as a British citizen, and therefore we’re going to do something about it.'”
At Lincoln University, Professor Anitha has worked with such campaigners as Pragna Patel, Director of the Southall Black Sisters, to produce a report calling for action from the British government.
“Abandonment should be recognized as an aspect of domestic violence,” Ms Patel says, “because it involves emotional, sexual, financial, physical coercive behaviour and abuse. Once it is, then all the legal avenues that should be open to women either to seek protection or prosecution … would be available to abandoned women.”
“If the British state turns a blind eye to this, they are contributing to the culture of impunity,” she adds. “In a globalized world, we have to wake up to the fact that violence in trans-national spaces is a new and emerging form of violence against women.”
We at Open Minds hope to see the UK and other governments take up this challenge and help those who fall victim to this cruel form of undue influence.
For more on this, watch the BBC report.
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