Imams in Britain and abroad have been conducting ceremonies using Skype to marry British girls remotely to men abroad, said the charity Freedom, which campaigns against forced marriage.
The new husband is often promised that he will get a visa to come to Britain.
In one case, an 11-year-old girl from London was married on Skype to a 25-year-old man in Bangladesh, Freedom’s founder Aneeta Prem said.
The girl, who hadn’t understood the significance of the Skype call at the time, contacted Freedom after reading a book about forced marriage by Prem that her brother was given at school.
“As soon as she was old enough the family was planning to take her out to consummate the marriage,” Prem said.
“She had been pulled out of school and was being taught to be a housewife.”
Prem said only a handful of internet marriages had come to light so far, but the number was increasing.
Forced marriages affect several communities in Britain, but Skype marriages only involve Muslim girls – other faiths require brides and grooms to be physically present during the ceremony, campaigners said.
Another case concerned a 13-year-old girl who said she was forced to marry an 18-year-old Iranian over Skype. A 17-year-old boy was also married on Skype after his family found out he had a white girlfriend.
“MARRIAGE BY PHONE”
Britain made forced marriage illegal in 2014. It is also a crime to take someone abroad to be married against their will.
Prem said Skype marriages were attractive to some families because the marriage was instant and they were less likely to get caught.
Karma Nirvana, another British charity which campaigns against forced marriage, said it had received calls to its helpline from girls who had been married off over the phone.
The girls often don’t realise the phone call is a marriage ceremony until their family tells them afterwards.
“Some victims have contacted us and said: ‘I’ve been married over the phone because my family think that I’m shaming them.’,” said Karma Nirvana founder Jasvinder Sanghera.
“The quickest way to marry someone off is not going to be taking them out to Pakistan, India, or wherever, the quickest way to get them into marriage is going to be over the phone.”
Karma Nirvana helpline manager Priya Manota estimated thousands of British girls under the age of 18 are being forced into marriage every year.
Britain’s Forced Marriage Unit confirmed it had come across cases of forced marriage being conducted by Skype.
“Forced marriage is an abhorrent practice which is totally unacceptable and will not be tolerated in the UK, regardless of how it takes place,” the Home Office said.