Girls in Sweden who are at risk of being taken abroad for forced marriage or female genital mutilation (FGM) have been advised to tuck a spoon into their underwear as a last-ditch method of alerting authorities to their plight.
The hope is that if a girl hides a spoon in her underwear, she’ll set off the metal detectors and be pulled aside by authorities, at which point she will be able to speak to someone privately. Per Reuters, Gothenburg, the second largest city in Sweden, made headlines this week when it recommended the practice.
Karma Nirvana, the leading British charity fighting honor killings and forced marriages, is the organization who came up with the tactic.
“The spoon in the underwear is literally a last resort,” Natasha Manota, the head of development and learning for Karma Nirvana, told A Plus. “We wouldn’t be expecting people to do that in the main, we’d be expecting them to obviously hear the story, hear the noise we’re creating about forced marriage and learn about services like ours that exist so they can get help before it got to the stage of them being taken out of the country.”
“If the staff at the security check at the airport spot a girl with a spoon in her pants, they take her aside and talk to her in a separate room,” Katarina Idegård, who works as a coordinator against honor-based violence in Gothenburg, told A Plus in an email. “They contact the police since it’s a crime to prepare for FGM and the social services to take care of the girl. If there is an acute actual risk of FGM for the girl, we have a law that makes it possible to take the child away from the parents temporarily and give the child the care it needs somewhere else than at home.”
Karma Nirvana also conducts training sessions for airport security officers to keep an eye out for the “spoon technique,” as Manota calls it, along with other signs that a girl in transit might be leaving the country for a forced marriage or FGM. Both FGM and forced marriages are illegal and punishable by prison sentences in Sweden.
Idegard said a 2015 study found that 38,000 girls living in Sweden may have undergone FGM. The victims included women born in Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Gambia.
One well-known case of FGM was that of Yemeni former child bride Nujood Mohammed Ali, pictured top.
She who was granted a divorce in 2008 at the age of eight after her unemployed father forced her into marriage with a man twenty years her senior. She is now a central figure in Yemen’s movement against forced marriage and child marriage.