Asian Immigrant Women Subjected to Virginity Tests in 1970s in UK

Ministers in the British Home Office are facing calls to apologize to at least 80 Asian immigrant women who were subjected to “virginity tests” as they sought to enter the UK in the 1970s. Australian researchers Marinella Marmo and Evan Smith of Flinders University law school, Adelaide, reviewed files from the National Archives in London that revealed that the practice was not, as British officials first claimed, infrequent, but “far more widespread, especially at British high commission offices in India and Pakistan.” The British government had previously claimed that only two women had had to undergo the tests.

The Guardian has also seen the files from the Natonal Archives. The practice was banned in 1979 after the Guardianexclusively reported” about a 35-year-old Indian woman teacher who was examined by a male doctor at Heathrow airport. More details about what the Indian government and others has ruled a “humiliating and obscene” practice:

The Home Office initially denied that any internal examination had taken place. The woman told the Guardian’s then social services correspondent, Melanie Phillips, that she only signed a form consenting to a “gynaecological examination, that may be vaginal if necessary” because she was frightened she would otherwise be sent back to India.

“A man doctor came in. I asked to be seen by a lady doctor but they said ‘no’,” she told Phillips. “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.”

The recently released Home Office files report the doctor’s version of the examination: “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 Home Office offered the woman £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 stressed that the payment 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 Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, which was involved in the original 1979 case, supports the demand for an apology to the women subjected to the tests. Said the Council’s legal director, Hina Majid:

This represents yet another shameful chapter in the ignominious history of British immigration control.

“It is deeply regrettable that no apology has ever been rendered to those women who underwent this degrading and discriminatory practice.

“Whilst this is a practice of the past, it is demonstrative of a wider, and indeed ongoing tendency to sideline women in immigration policy making. Whilst in 2011 we may no longer be virginity testing South Asian brides, the sad reality is that many migrant women continue to be denied equal treatment, and the full enjoyment of their human rights,” she said.

The virginity tests were indeed a gross infringement, and violation of, the women’s human rights. An apology barely seems like enough, but it is a small start.



bob m.
bob m6 years ago

Just a formality (med); but a useful one on the way to dumping female fetus.
Shake it up baby...twist and shout....

Jane L.
Jane L6 years ago

The article says they never got one then, but I mean now, after finding out so many years later...

Jane L.
Jane L6 years ago

ok so did they eventually GET the apology??? All this and no real answer

Sue Horwood
.6 years ago

What on earth has being or not being a virgin got to do with immigration. This was an obscene practice and apologies should be made.

Lilithe Magdalene

Sick and twisted... what the heck for?!?!?

Avril Van Rooyen
Avril Van Rooyen6 years ago

If I want to immigrate to the UK now - I need to have a full medical done before departing from my home country. Upon arrival immigrants or people staying in the country 6 months will have to be x-rayed on arrival.

This procedure is to ensure that infectious diseases such as TB are not brought into the country. Also to ensure that a person staying there will not become very sick and have to rely on the NHS for treatment.

So - in the 1970's they did a gynae exam of women. Was it just Asian women or all women who were immigrating to the country? (the article here does not specify this). I presume they did it for the same reasons - to ensure they had no infectious diseases (such as venereal diseases) and so become a burden on the state and taxpayer.

Ellis Island in the USA had a medical procedure for the thousands of immigrants that arrived there. Look it up on the net - it certainly wasnt very dignified either.

The bottom line is people who want to immigrate to another country should accept the formalities and rules of that country. If a gynaecological examination is one of those rules at that time - then why should the government apologise for it now?

Lorraine B.

Indeed a very shameful chapter, and I am terribly sorry that this happened to these women. While I agree that they are owed an apology -but an apology from who? Hopefully the actual person(s) who mandated this program, not just somebody in government who had nothing to do with this horrible situation. Otherwise, what is the point beyond acknowledging, as I am, as others here are, that it was wrong. As for financial renumeration - it occurs, why should someone(the much beleagured taxpayer) have to pay for something that they did not do, had nothing to do with, probably knew nothing about, and possibly were not even born at the time this took place, et al., be financially responsible? Sad and shameful story. Pity there are so many of them in all the countries of the world.

Myriam G.
Myriam G6 years ago

Beside the fact that it's totally revolting, I don't understand why their being "a virgin" was relevant in being accepted into the UK?

K s Goh
KS Goh6 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Marie W.
Marie W6 years ago

Shake any carpet- some dirt always falls out.