Sham marriages are a form of human trafficking

Publicated on: November 18, 2019

In the EU, vulnerable women may be offered money to travel abroad to be part of arranged marriages. Once in their new countries, however, they run the risk of being abused and forced into crime. These sham marriages are a form of human trafficking. Without the cross-border understanding and cooperation of different organisations, more victims could find themselves at the mercy of human traffickers.

Sham marriages are more than marriages of convenience, exchanging vows for EU residence or financial gain. When vulnerable young women are coerced into leaving their homes, and entering exploitative relationships with strangers, they risk losing their freedom. Whatever the language, we’re all familiar with the idea of fake marriage. In Europe, sham marriages typically involve men from outside the EU marrying European women, not necessarily with their full consent. The men agree to the arrangement as a fast-track to EU residence. But it’s a different picture for the women, who may come from vulnerable or economically unstable backgrounds. They might be subjected to sexual exploitation or forced labour by the criminals who coerce them into leaving their homes.

Recognising the warning signs is a first step in tackling this crime. This is why researchers, immigration agencies, NGOs and law enforcement in several EU countries united to expose exploitative sham marriages. Thanks to this EU-wide initiative, data has been collected on fake marriages and their links to human trafficking. Police and immigration officers throughout Europe are becoming more familiar with the signs of sham marriages, allowing them to stop the criminals.

Szonja Szabó, an expert of Europol, meets this particular type of trafficking more and more frequently. In her work, she supports law enforcement agencies in EU Member States in detecting criminal groups. Her dedicated job is to bring the perpetrators to justice and protect the victims.


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