The number of South Asian people searching online to enter into marriages of convenience in the UK is the “tip of the iceberg”, as helpline calls on the issue rise.
Karma Nirvana, a human rights group, claims many people are scared of being disowned by their families if they come out as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
The charity, which supports victims of honour-based abuse and forced marriage, told the BBC it received 93 calls about LGBT issues in 2015. The number rose to 124 in 2016 and again to 205 so far this year.
Chief executive of Karma Nirvana, Jasvinder Sanghera, said the issue of marriages of convenience among the LGBT community is “hidden”.
“A marriage of convenience is the extreme; however, it goes back to the point of the victim again who knows that if they were not to do that they would lose their family completely.
“They would be totally ostracised and disowned – or they may risk significant harm or even murder in some cases.”
There are several websites and online forums which allow users to post adverts looking for potential marriage partners, including Al-Jannah and Saathinight.
One message, posted on the forum this week, reads: “I am gay, Muslim 30 years old, I’m looking for MOC with a lesbian/asexual girl.”
One gay man from Leeds told the BBC it took him three years to organise a sham marriage to keep his sexual orientation under wraps, as the pair had to consider where they would live and how they would visit family.
“There was a lot to think about. It wasn't just a case of 'let's get married and that'll get the family off our backs',” he said. “It’s difficult on an emotional level because you’re living an additional lie on top of the lie of being gay.
“It does get to you, the pressures get to you and it’s difficult,” he added, saying the pressure eventually led to him getting a divorce.
“People still do it but I don’t know anyone that’s happy in it.”
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