London (AP): Klara Balogova was 18, penniless and heavily pregnant when she rode thousands of miles from Slovakia to England to marry a man she had never met.
She knew he did not want her, or her child. He wanted her European identity card. The marriage was arranged so the 23-year-old Pakistani groom could gain the right to live and work in Europe.
Balogova was promised a clean place to stay in Britain and maybe even some money. But she says within days of arrival, she was moved from Manchester to Glasgow in Scotland, where she was kept in an apartment with her future husband.
When he wasn’t around, his younger brother would stand over her, and her identity documents were taken away.
“He didn’t let me out at any time. He told me it was not possible to go out there,” said Balogova, a shy, petite Gypsy woman who spoke reluctantly, never making any eye contact when she was interviewed. “Once a week we went out together. I was never allowed to go alone.”
Each year, dozens of women like Balogova from the poorer corners of eastern Europe are lured to the West for sham marriages.
The men, who authorities say are often Asian or African, pay large sums because they want to live, work or claim benefits more easily in their chosen country and move freely within Europe. The brokers, often organized criminal gangs, take most or all of the profits. And the women sometimes end up trapped in a foreign country with nothing.
Illicit marriages to get around these laws are becoming more common, including direct arrangements between grooms and women as well as the sale of brides.
In Britain, one of several countries where the brides show up, the number of women suspected of being trafficked for sham marriages in 2013 doubled from the year before to 45, according to the National Crime Agency. And Europol last year identified this type of crime as an “emerging phenomenon.”
Most brides get paid-for trips to Britain, Ireland, Germany and the Netherlands, and some don’t fully realize what they’ve gotten themselves into until they arrive.
Women have been held captive until their marriage papers are signed, abused by their “husband” and his friends, used for sex and drug trafficking or even made to marry more than once, according to European authorities and charities.
“Depending on the case, a woman can be sold for thousands of euros,” said Angelika Molnar, an anti-trafficking specialist at Europol. “I can tell you it is lucrative.”
Of the 34 trafficking victims lured abroad from the Baltic state recorded last year, 22 were for sham marriages, according to Laisma Stabina, anti-trafficking coordinator at the country’s Interior Ministry.