Asian women coming to Britain in the 1970s were subjected to ‘virginity tests’

At least 80 Asian women who arrived in Britain in the 1970s were made to have ‘virginity tests’ by immigration staff.

Calls have been made for the Government to make an official apology after it was discovered the intimate examinations – used to ‘check the marital status’ of Indian and Pakistani women – were on a wider scale that originally thought.

The practice was banned in February 1979 after it was reported a 35-year-old Indian  teacher was examined by a male doctor when she arrived at Heathrow Airport to test whether she was a genuine wife-to-be who had not borne children.

The Home Office initially denied that any internal examination had taken place.

The unidentified woman told the Guardian newspaper: ‘A man doctor came in. I asked to be seen by a lady doctor but they said ”no”.

‘He was wearing rubber gloves and took some medicine out of a tube and put it on some cotton and inserted it into me. He said he was deciding whether I was pregnant now or had been pregnant before.

‘I said that he could see that without doing anything to me, but he said there was no need to get shy.

‘I have been feeling very bad mentally ever since. I was very embarrassed and upset. I had never had a gynaecological examination before.’

Details of the doctor’s examination were documented for the Home Office.

He wrote: ‘Penetration of about half an inch made it apparent that she had an intact hymen and no other internal examination was made … The only time she was bare chested was for the X-ray examination… The doctor told the immigration officer verbally that the lady had not had children and she was then given conditional leave to enter for three months as a fiancee.’

But the file also reveals that after the incident became public the woman was offered £500 to ensure she did not sue.

The payment, offered through her solicitors, was to be ‘in recognition of the distress she had been caused’ but she also had to agree ‘not to initiate any proceedings against the Home Office’.

It was emphasised that it was not ‘compensation’, which would have implied that immigration staff had acted improperly, and the then home secretary, Merlyn Rees, while expressing his ‘deep regret’ carefully, did not make an official apology to her.

The files were unearthed at the National Archives in London by two Australian legal academics.

The demand for an apology was backed by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, which was involved in the original 1979 case.

A spokesman for the UK Border Agency said: ‘These practices occurred thirty years ago and were clearly wrong.

‘This government’s immigration policies reflect the UK’s legal responsibilities and respect immigrants’ human rights.’
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