TRANSNATIONAL MARRIAGE ABANDONMENT
Anonymous, SBS user
Her mother-in-law would physically punish her and told her husband to send her to Pakistan. Her husband said “go back to Pakistan; I’ll come and get you”
Anonymous, SBS user
“I have lost everything due to this fraud… I am completely helpless.”
Anonymous, SBS user
“After marriage, he stayed with me only 5-6 days”
Transnational marriage abandonment is a form of domestic abuse. It involves vulnerable migrant women being deliberately removed from the protections of this country and discarded abroad as if they are disposable commodities. Abandonment denies women access to justice and is a violation of their dignity and human rights.
Southall Black Sisters (SBS) has long been campaigning for the government to bring the growing problem of transnational marriage abandonment within legislation and policy on domestic abuse so that it can be properly addressed. The relevant authorities must take the necessary steps to provide remedies for abandoned victims and their children so that they are safe and can assert the rights to which they are entitled.
The injustice created by the practice of marriage abandonment has been recently outlined in a blog by Nath Gbikpi, a solicitor at Wesley Gryk Solicitors. Her account sheds much-needed light on the immense difficulties faced by her client who is a victim of marriage abandonment. Not only has she suffered abuse at the hands of her husband, but the immigration rules have in fact enabled the abuse and prolonged it. Her client has been prevented from returning to the UK in order to obtain the protection and remedies to which she is entitled.
What is transnational marriage abandonment?
Many South Asian women, in particular, contact SBS with appalling accounts of abuse and abandonment. The practice involves abusive British national or British resident husbands deliberately disposing of unwanted brides in their countries of origin – where they are often at risk of violence, exploitation, poverty, destitution and social stigma. Sometimes women are cruelly separated from their children; others are abandoned with their children in situations of near destitution. Victims are left trapped in abusive and limping marriages and in circumstances that involve the deliberate infraction of their legal rights to protection, support and rehabilitation. The University of Lincoln published vital research in 2016 which highlighted the scale of the problem and the devastating consequences for women.
Until recently, this problem was little understood in law, policy and practice in the UK.
What has SBS done?
In 2016, SBS and the University of Lincoln launched the report Disposable Women: Abuse, Violence And Abandonment in Transnational Marriages: Issues For Policy And Practice in the UK and India at the Houses of Parliament.
Since then, working with academics and family and immigration law practitioners, we have lobbied the government extensively for changes to both family and immigration policy.
Family Justice System
Between April 2016 and October 2017, SBS formed a working subgroup involving the then President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, to improve outcomes for abandoned women in the Family Justice System. We published a series of articles on transnational marriage abandonment in the Family Law journal, and were invited by the President to deliver a presentation to senior family law judges in May 2017. As a result of our campaigning, marriage abandonment was included for the first time in the definition of domestic abuse in the revised Practice Direction 12J: Child Arrangements and Cont.
This revised Practice Direction provides the family courts with guidance on how to be more responsive to abandoned women who wish to assert their legal rights to property, maintenance, dowry and childcare arrangements, upon divorce. However, we continue to have concerns about its implementation in the family courts, due in part to a continuing pervasive culture of disbelief and indifference towards domestic abuse; and a failure to regard abandonment as a form of abuse in itself.
There is still much to be done to ensure that victims of this pernicious form of abuse can access justice and obtain the appropriate remedies. Within the family justice system, there is a need for more awareness of transnational abandonment and training for the judiciary, legal profession, and CAFCASS officials. Cases should be heard by judges with an appropriate level of seniority, and with effective liaison between the family court and immigration authorities. In terms of divorce and financial remedy, there is a need for greater scrutiny of divorce cases where the wife cannot respond as she is out of the country – to ensure that if she has been abandoned there she can seek a remedy – and for a more streamlined process to enforce the Maintenance Orders (Reciprocal Enforcement) Act 1972 so that an abandoned wife can enforce maintenance orders that are issued in her country of origin.
We have formed a subgroup to work with the Home Office to increase understanding of this form of abuse amongst immigration officials and to reduce the opportunities for perpetrators to use the immigration system to abuse and abandon women with impunity. However, these meetings have stalled. The Home Office has failed to work with SBS and immigration lawyers to find solutions to the practice of marriage abandonment, which is resulting in a discriminatory response to abused migrant women with unsettled status.
We urge the Home Office to re-engage with the working group to improve immigration outcomes for abused women. It needs to develop policies and practice that recognises the overlap between domestic abuse and immigration; and its devastating impact on the human rights of migrant women and on the welfare and rights of their children.
It is vital that transnational marriage abandonment is recognised in any future Domestic Abuse Bill, and specifically in immigration policy and guidance. Spouses who have been subject to marriage abandonment must be able to access the immigration system as victims of domestic abuse and to participate in family proceedings. For example, currently, a woman who is abandoned in her country of origin cannot apply for indefinite leave to remain (ILR) under the domestic violence rule – but she would be able to if the marriage had broken down due to domestic abuse within the UK (see the blog by Nath Gbukpi.) These women should be able to apply for ILR, and should not be subjected to ‘no recourse to public funds’ restrictions if they have re-entered the UK.
There is a clear need for the UK’s immigration system to act in a way that acknowledges and combats transnational marriage abandonment. This requires clear guidance for entry clearance officers when considering visa applications from abandoned spouses; acting promptly and effectively to requests from the family courts for the return of abandoned mothers to the UK; and closely scrutinising requests by abusive husbands to revoke their spouses’ visas, which prevent women from re-entering the UK to assert their rights in family matters.
We have previously been consulted by the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire and Inside Out London on transnational marriage abandonment. Some of our clients have been brave enough to speak out about their experiences of abandonment. Read also the blog by Nath Gbukpi here.
How you can help
Jahangir, S. (2015) Stranded Spouses and Immigration Control, Family Law Week, March 2015
Anitha, S., Roy, A. and Yalamarty, H. (2016) Disposable women: Abuse, violence and abandonment in transnational marriages. Lincoln: University of Lincoln.
Anitha, S., Patel, P., Handa, R. and Jahangir, S. (2016) Emerging issues for international family law Part 1: Transnational marriage abandonment as a form of domestic violence. Family Law Journal, 46 (10). p. 1247
Jahangir, S., Anitha, S., Patel, P., and Handa, R. (2016) Emerging issues for international family law Part 2: Possibilities and challenges to providing effective legal remedies in cases of transnational marriage abandonment. Family Law Journal, 46 (11), p. 1352
Patel, P., Handa, R., Anitha, S., Jahangir S. (2016) Emerging issues for international family law: Part 3: Transnational marriage abandonment and the dowry question. Family Law Journal, 46 (12), p. 1443