Sexual harassment and assault

Girls in Sweden told to hide spoons in underwear to avoid forced marriage

The spoons are intended to trigger metal detectors, alerting airport staff to any girls being flown abroad against their will; a Swedish national hotline received 139 calls last year about child marriage or forced marriage

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 May, 2018, 12:40am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 May, 2018, 10:09pm

A Swedish city is advising girls who fear being taken abroad for forced marriage or female genital mutilation (FGM) to tuck a spoon in their underwear before going through airport security.

Airport staff in Gothenburg have been told how to respond in such circumstances, said Katarina Idegard, who is in charge of tackling honour-based violence for Sweden’s second biggest city.

“The spoon will trigger metal detectors when you go through security checks,” she said. “You will be taken aside and you can then talk to staff in private.”

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

There is no data on the number of girls taken abroad for forced marriage, but Idegard said that a national hotline received 139 calls last year about child marriage or forced marriage.

Activists will encourage other cities to follow Gothenburg’s lead and adopt the spoon initiative, she added.

The idea comes from the British charity Karma Nirvana, which claimed that the tactic had already saved a number of girls in Britain from forced marriage.

The charity said that hiding a spoon in their underwear was a safe way for girls to alert the authorities, which was often difficult if they were constantly surrounded by family.

Idegard said the advice about hiding a spoon was part of a wider campaign to tackle honour-based violence in Gothenburg, a city of one million people.

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Schools and social workers have been asked to be extra vigilant in the run-up to the summer holidays when girls from diaspora communities are more likely to be taken abroad.

“We are doing this now because the risks of forced marriage and FGM increase during the school holidays, especially the long summer break,” said Idegard.

Forced marriage and FGM are illegal in Sweden, even if carried out abroad, and punishable by prison terms.

In 2016, a father was convicted of forcing his daughter to marry against her will after tricking her into making a trip to Afghanistan.

In another case in 2014, a 14-year-old girl whose father had taken her to Ethiopia to marry an older cousin was rescued after asking a school counsellor for help via Facebook.

Idegard said that a 2015 study found up to 38,000 girls and women living in Sweden may have undergone FGM – with victims including women born in Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Egypt and Gambia.