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10 Mar, 2013 12:53

Mail-order bridle: Swedish minister backs controversial 2-year ‘wife import’ rule

Mail-order bridle: Swedish minister backs controversial 2-year ‘wife import’ rule

Sweden’s equality minister has backed a ‘two-year rule’ for international marriages designed against those who come merely to obtain residency. Critics say the law will force many women to choose between deportation and enduring an abusive marriage.

The problems stem from a nationwide marriage practice called ‘fruimport’, when a Swedish man starts a relationship with a foreign woman - often from nations such as Thailand, Russia, Iraq, the Philippines, Brazil, and China - frequently locking her later into a marriage of violence and sexual exploitation.

Despite investigations into how widespread the problem is by her predecessor, Sweden’s new Equality Minister Mary Arnholm has stated that she wants the country to retain the right to deport foreign women who separate from their Swedish husbands within two years of marriage.

“I support the two-year rule. I think it serves its purpose,” Arnholm said in a statement to Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet on Friday

The law was originally instated to prevent ‘sham marriages’ lasting less than two years for the purposes of securing resident visas. However, it could also result in women remaining in violent and abusive relationships for an extended period.

Despite maintaining that she backs the two-year rule, Arnhold herself stated that there was a serious problem, saying that women should not stay with abusive husbands because of this law.

“We must at all costs avoid the feeling that one gets thrown out of Sweden if you leave a man,” she also said.

However, this feeling may be difficult to avoid. More than 10,000 women every year enter Sweden to live with a Swedish man, according to national news agency, Svt.se.

Of these, between 500 and 900 women every year are exposed to violence or are in other ways a victim of the practice, according to a 2012 survey of social services, police, emergency rooms and shelters in 92 municipalities in five counties across Sweden. 

Governor Eva Eriksson, who headed the 2012 survey, alleges that the figure is higher, and thousands of newly arrived women seek help annually after some form of assault at the hands of their partners. Children could also be seriously impacted by the abuse.

At the time, the figures were welcomed by Roks, the National Organization for Women's and Girl's Shelters in Sweden, who released their first report on the subject in 2009, underlining the practice, and pointing out the large power imbalance between men and women, leaving women open to abuse. The organization also estimates that it comes in to contact with about 500 such women every year.

Eriksson carried out the survey on behalf of former Equality Minister Nyamko Sabuni, who Arnholm replaced in January.

“Even a woman who has a temporary residence permit must be able to feel safe and protected by Swedish law. And I do not think …the two-year rule really inspires the right protection,” said Sabuni last year, according to DN.se.

As well as speaking out against the two-year rule, she concluded that Sweden should also increase controls on Swedish men who attempt to bring in wives.

There had been calls for Arnholm to make her position on the matter known. This February, Swedish Center Party president Gunilla Hjelm demanded a stop to the practice.

“We now call on the new Equality Minister Mary Arnholm to push for immediate action against the fruimport,”
she said, reiterating that it puts thousands of women in vulnerable positions.